Tuesday, November 10, 2015

In the Language of Miracles by Rajia Hassib

Samir and Nagla Al-Menshawy immigrated to the United States from their home in Egypt in search of the American dream.  It wasn't always easy, but in suburban Summerset, New Jersey, they thought they had found it.  Samir's medical practice was successful, the couple found fast friends in the family next door, and their children were growing up knowing the luxuries of American life.  But, when a heinous crime is committed by their oldest son, Hossam, the family is plunged into grief and the community they once felt a valuable part of turns forcefully against them.  In the Language of Miracles is the story of the Al-Menshawy family's struggles in the aftermath of their tragic awakening from the American dream that should have been their reality.

In the Language of Miracles is a story of faith and community: having it, finding it, losing it.  Mother Nagla struggles with her loss of faith in face of tragedy, her inability to match the piety of her mother and her best friend that increases her fear that it was a shortfall in herself that caused tragedy to befall her family.  Grandmother Ehsan is steeped in faith, perpetually murmuring prayers and waving incense, providing holy water for healing.  Her faith imbues her every action and is so genuine that it can tear down cultural walls but can't rescue her daughter's family from their grief and struggle.  Daughter Fatima is seeking her own path to faith, uncertain of whether to pursue her family's more Americanized ways or don the headscarves of her more religious friends.  Son Khaled is a different story completely.  Caught between the shame and treachery brought on by his brother's act and the expectations of a father whose hopes are now pinned upon him alone, Khaled takes refuge in studying monarch butterflies, how they migrate thousands of miles south to winter only to have a new generation of butterflies return north - a practice that seems to have parallels even in his own family.

Each of Hassib's characters is fleshed out and fully realized, from Khaled who is coming of age in the shadow of tragedy to his father, whose stubbornness makes him easy for readers to dislike, but his ultimate wish and goal to preserve the life and community he had striven so hard to attain, is ultimately sympathetic.  I wished for an ending that offered a bit more closure, but that should take nothing away from this book that seems in every way to be an authentic exploration of the immigrant experience, an honest portrayal of the Muslim faith, and a compelling picture of a broken family knitting themselves back together after tragedy.

(I received a copy of In the Language of Miracles from the publisher in exchange for review consideration.)


  1. Wow, I know of a family with lives very much like that. I need to check out this book.

  2. I admit the cover is what first caught my eye, but your review of this book has me even more eager to read it than I was. As sad and heart-wrenching as books like this tend to be, I find myself drawn to them--the themes of family, tragedy, and grief and how they deal with it all. I am looking forward to reading this one.

  3. This sounds like one I might enjoy Megan. Hadn't heard of this one.

  4. Sounds like a really interesting read. I'm definitely going to check this one out. Thanks for the review, Megan!