With my busy, busy life, it’s tempting to only read page-turning genre fiction. I speed through them like popcorn because they’re fun, slightly predictable, and comforting. When I take the time to slow down a teeny bit with literary fiction, I am deeply rewarded. In the Language of Miracles by Rajia Hassib is one such novel.
Nagla followed her husband Samir to the United States from Egypt as he worked his way through a medical residency. Nagla and their young son live lonely days in a tiny apartment in New York City. When Samir launches his practice, he finally achieves the American Dream. They own a beautiful home in the suburbs, have three children, and are good friends with their neighbors. Life is good until a decade later, when their oldest son Hosaam is found dead along with their neighbors’ teenage daughter Natalie.
The novel picks up a year after the devastating occurrence, mere five days before Natalie’s memorial service. For a year, the family has struggled to remain close. Their only bond is their anger and grief. News of the memorial services kicks up long suppressed emotions, especially when Samir announces he wishes to speak at the surface in order to atone for Hosaam’s deed.
As the title suggests, faith and religion plays a huge role in the characters’ lives. Nagla’s mother reaches for the Qur’an for comfort while Nagla eschews her mother’s blind faith in Allah’s will. Samir is determined to make amends for his dead son’s actions. Siblings Fatima and Khaled dodge ethnic slurs and ugly looks from the classmates. Former friends now only see their family as potential terrorists.
Hassib’s novel is reveals the balancing act that immigrants live as they attempt to assimilate without losing the family’s cultural traditions. They may have achieved the American dream with their suburban houses and successful businesses, but some people will never see them as truly Americans.
I don’t usually like to compare one novel to another, but In the Language of Miracles is similar to Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You in the multilayered way they both deal with grief in a family dynamic. (You can read my review of Ng’s novel here.)
Add In the Language of Miracles to your reading list. You will be deeply rewarded by Hassib’s words like I was.