An unlikely relationship, a problem at the airport, and an interview with a famous writer…three parts, seemingly unrelated: Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday delivers more than you would expect!

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My Review:

If you haven’t picked up a copy of Asymmetry yet, do yourself a favor and buy it today!  Delve into this book to absorb what you can, then after, you may want to read the discussion questions.  Hint:  If you want to discover more…read Alice in Wonderland, read a Philip Roth book, then read Asymmetry again to make sense of it, and look up each character’s name and origin and anything else that can be googled.  You will be surprised and overwhelmed with the incredible amount of literary knowledge and evident research Halliday included in this masterpiece of a debut.

First we are observing a relationship between a young female editor and a much older, successful writer.  At times it may seem natural and then is also may feel highly inappropriate.  Next we are inside the mind of a muslim man detained at the London airport, and finally, we read an interview with a self centered, arrogant pulitzer prize winning author. Lisa Halliday’s novel, Asymmetry, is made up of three seemingly unrelated sections.  At a closer look you may find in Folly, the first section, editor Alice and writer Ezra are very similar to real life young Halliday and Philip Roth.  In Madness, section two, the author writes as if she is a Muslim man, with authenticity and knowledge of life in Iraq and a wartime mindset.  The final section is an interview with the brash prize winner where his true colors are evident and not altogether pleasant.

Without any spoilers, I must stop here!  My book group chose this novel and it was the most enlightening and interesting discussion to date!  If you would like more information about Lisa Halliday and Asymmetry, check out this author video interview.

If you have any comments or questions about anything related to Asymmetry, I would love to hear it!

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Lisa Halliday has worked as a freelance editor and translator in Milan, where she lives with her husband. Her short story ‘Stump Louie’ appeared in The Paris Review in 2005, and she received a Whiting Award for Fiction in 2017. Asymmetry is her first novel.

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A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

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My Review:

WOW! What a great book! I feel like I have a deep understanding of this beautiful, struggling family having experienced their lives from different perspectives through Fatima Farheen Mirza’s heartfelt and elegantly written debut. She is gifted in making you feel the characters’ emotions from their own viewpoint and from other perspectives, gradually revealing different aspects without retelling the story.

A Place For Us begins at Hadia’s wedding in California.  The family gathers to celebrate a marriage based on love, not an arranged marriage as you might expect, and Amar, Hadia’s younger brother who ran away three years earlier, has returned for the celebration.  We don’t know why he was gone and thus the story is told from the beginning.

With secrets of clandestine meetings with the opposite sex, drug use and lack of strong religious beliefs, to nontraditional marriages, family responsibilities and commitments, and educational options for women, Mirza tells a rich and engaging story of today.  We see how an Indian Muslim family might feel conflicted with the parent’s family traditions of faith from prior generations, and the current American culture they are accustomed to where their children have grown up and are a part of.

This wonderful Indian, Muslim American family in many ways is like any other family, lots of love, sibling rivalry and parental discipline, yet they follow strict religious rules and traditions which at times complicate their relationships with each other and others. Due to traditional expectations, each family member feels personal conflict as they strive for social acceptance, grapple with religious beliefs and search for individual happiness.  Trying to find their place in the family is compounded with trying to find their place in the outside world, and like any family that has their own rules and strong belief systems, there are challenges.  This incredibly moving story feels authentic and relevant in today’s society where it continues to be a difficult to look, act and dress differently and still fit in amongst a crowd. This family has so much love for each other but love doesn’t always come without pain and disappointment.  The family members often act and react toward each other based on assumptions, always wanting the best, but not always with the best results. I adored the characters as they go on their journeys to develop their identities, enjoyed the format with different points of view, and was absorbed by the compelling story of family and culture; so beautifully written and emotionally powerful…my favorite book of the year so far!

Note:  A Place For Us is the first book published by Sarah Jessica Parker’s new imprint SJP for Hogarth.  To read about my conversation with SJP click here.

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Fatima Farheen Mirza was born in 1991 and raised in California. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a recipient of the Michener-Copernicus Fellowship.

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

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My Review:

An emotional and timely novel, Home Fire is a compelling story about Muslim families in crisis.  Isma is the responsible older sister of twins Aneeka and Parvaiz.  Their mother and grandmother have passed away and the twins are now 18 years old, so Isma, having previously put her ambitions on the back burner to look after her siblings, is leaving her home in London to travel to America for a work opportunity.  Aneeka is beautiful and intelligent and will be studying law in London, and Parvaiz vacates the country on a quest to learn about his father, a known jihadist, who fought in Chechnya and Afghanistan.

In the US, Isma meets Eamonn, the son of a British politician who has a Muslim background like she does, but values that appear to be very different.  It seems like a spark is developing between them but then Eamonn returns to London and gets involved  with younger sister, Aneeka.  Parvaiz is unfocused and becomes radicalized by a friend who under false pretenses convinces him to go to Syria where he is told he will learn more about his estranged father but has really been recruited to a terrorist group.  When he decides he doesn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps but wants to return home to London, the law is not on his side and Aneeka is desperately hoping for help from Eamonn and his powerfully political father.

Government, loyalty to family and religious beliefs all come into play as author Kamila Shamsie skillfully writes about the Muslim immigrant struggle and the difficulties the innocent communities face due to extremists.   I loved this book and believe it has great movie potential.

As Seen on Goodreads:

Home Fire is the suspenseful and heartbreaking story of an immigrant family driven to pit love against loyalty, with devastating consequences.

Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she’s accepted an invitation from a mentor in America that allows her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. When he resurfaces half a globe away, Isma’s worst fears are confirmed.

Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Son of a powerful political figure, he has his own birthright to live up to—or defy. Is he to be a chance at love? The means of Parvaiz’s salvation? Suddenly, two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined, in this searing novel that asks: What sacrifices will we make in the name of love?

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About the Author:

Kamila Shamsie is a Pakistani novelist, who writes in the English language. She was brought up in Karachi and attended Karachi Grammar School.

She has a BA in Creative Writing from Hamilton College, and an MFA from the MFA Program for Poets & Writers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she was influenced by the Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali.

Kamila wrote her first novel, In The City By The Sea, while she was still at UMass, and it was published in both India and England in 1998. It was soon shortlisted for the ‘John Llewelyn Rhys/Mail on Sunday award in the UK’, and she received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literature in Pakistan in 1999. Her second novel, Salt and Saffron, followed up on her success, and was published in the United States, the United Kingdom, Pakistan and Italy. in 2000 she was selected as one of Orange’s 21 Writers of the 21st Century. Her third novel, Kartography, received widespread critical acclaim and was shortlisted for the John Llewelyn Rhys award in the UK. Both “Kartography” and her most recent work, Broken Verses have won the Patras Bukhari Award from the Academy of Letters in Pakistan.