June 2, 2013

Painted Hands by Jennifer Zobair

The lovely and talented Jennifer Zobair has a debut novel coming out on June 11th!  I was able to get a review copy to read before her release date and enjoyed the time I got to spend with new "friends" Zainab and Amra.

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 From the back cover: 

Muslim bad girl Zainab Mir has just landed a job working for a post-feminist, Republican Senate candidate. Her best friend Amra Abbas is about to make partner at a top Boston law firm. Together they’ve thwarted proposal-slinging aunties, cultural expectations, and the occasional bigot to succeed in their careers. What they didn’t count on? Unlikely men and geopolitical firestorms.

When a handsome childhood friend reappears, Amra makes choices that Zainab considers so 1950s—choices that involve the perfect Banarasi silk dress and a four-bedroom house in the suburbs. After hiding her long work hours during their courtship, Amra struggles to balance her demanding job and her unexpectedly traditional new husband.

Zainab has her own problems. She generates controversy in the Muslim community with a suggestive magazine spread and friendship with a gay reporter. Her rising profile also inflames neocons like Chase Holland, the talk radio host who attacks her religion publicly but privately falls for her hard. When the political fallout from a terrorist attempt jeopardizes Zainab's job and protests surrounding a woman-led Muslim prayer service lead to violence, Amra and Zainab must decide what they’re willing to risk for their principles, their friendship, and love.

Jennifer Zobair's Painted Hands is The Namesake meets Sex and the City, an engaging and provocative debut novel about friendship and the love lives of American Muslim women.

What I thought:

Jennifer Zobair, in PAINTED HANDS, creates a cast of characters that give a fascinating look at Muslim-American culture. Within her story about navigating love and life while balancing Muslim religious and cultural beliefs with an American way of life, Zobair provides an array of characters covering the spectrum between devout followers of Islam and those who reject the beliefs of family and childhood.

The story follows a group of friends for more than a year as they juggle careers, political differences, the trials and tribulations of love and prejudice. Setting aside for a moment that the characters are Muslim, Zobair easily captures the conflict all women face between the desire to be true to themselves and their own beliefs and the pain we feel when we reject the desires and expectations of family and friends. Layered on top of that is the heavy blanket of cultural responsibility and the judgment of a community that expects you to support its long-standing traditions whether they are good for you or not. Or good for society as a whole.

PAINTED HANDS can be read simply as a story about women facing these issues, or it can be read on a deeper level with an exploration of Muslim-American culture and the politics of being Muslim in America. I enjoyed getting insights into a world I’ve had little exposure to and also think Zobair does a fantastic job of illustrating how, when you strip everything else away, we are all just human beings, the same as each other, trying to find our own happy place in the world.

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Do pick up a copy and support a talented author with her debut.  Christmas is only six months away and it will make a great gift!

Also, check out the book club questions at the author's web site.  They will add a great dimension to your reading and definitely show this is a book worth considering if you're looking for a new book club book!