Hayat Shah is just a fifth grader when he first meets his Aunt Mina, who has come with her son Imran from Pakistan to live with Hayat’s family in Milwaukee. Hayat develops a crush on Mina and does whatever he can to earn her love and attention, including studying the Quran. His parents don’t approve of his religious immersion, but the more diligent he is, the more Mina seems to respond positively to him. In fact, the whole family seems happier with Mina around, and Hayat’s father sets her up with his colleague and best friend, Nathan Wolfson, who is Jewish.
Nathan is ready to convert for Mina until he is exposed to the anti-Semitism of the mosque. Furthermore, Hayat, acting out of jealousy, takes some irrevocable steps to sabotage the relationship. The result is worse than he anticipated, and nothing short of catastrophic.
Discussion: The whole of the book seems to be a confession by Hayat about how he hurt his beloved Aunt Mina with his use of the Quran to wreak havoc on her romance with Nathan. But by the end of the book, I did not get any sense that he understood why what he did was wrong beyond hurting his aunt. That is, he doesn’t seem to have gained insight into the complexity of the Quran and the pitfalls of reading portions of it out of context; nor does he seem to have any awareness of the 7th Century sociopolitical atmosphere that led to conflicts between Muhammad and other traders and thus informed the Quran. Moreover, he shows no insight into how contemporary politics also affect interpretation of the teachings of Muhammad by the imams in the mosques. Finally, in spite of numerous instances of Hayat being confronted by hypocrisy by adherents of Islam, he never reflects upon what this might mean. In summary, Hayat shows no insight over anything; there is only regret that his scheming turned out worse than he hoped it would.
To me, it seemed like the author was giving Hayat redemption for confessing. That felt shallow to me, and not enough justification for reading through the whole story; I would have been more satisfied from redemption through some self-awareness.
Evaluation: This book provides an interesting look at the life of Muslims in America, but the plot was ultimately unsatisfying to me.
Published by Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2012
Note: Julie of Booking Mama reviewed this recently, and she loved it; be sure to check out her positive take on this book!