#Review: Jasmine Falling

jasmine falling cover

Jasmine Falling
By: Shereen Malherbe
5 stars

This review was originally published on Muslimah Media Watch.

Jasmine Falling by Muslimah Media Watch’s Shereen Malherbe recounts the story of Jasmine, a young English girl who, in order to receive her inheritance after her mother dies, searches for her father in his native Palestine and winds up discovering not only the family she left behind, but also the culture to which she belongs.

As clichéd as the phrase may be, reading Jasmine Falling sent me on an emotional rollercoaster. Within the span of just a few pages I would find myself vacillating between pitying Jasmine for her loss and being downright angry with a fictional character for the decisions she makes: for example, Jasmine’s decision to get drunk in Palestine (a foreign land for her) with a guy she hardly knows, even though going to the bar had nothing to do with her mission, upset me so much I briefly stopped reading, then realized I was angry out of concern. I know people who’ve done the same thing Jasmine did, and I know the unfortunate consequences of their actions. Despite my frustrations with some of the protagonist’s choices, by the end of the novel, I was overwhelmingly happy for Jasmine, because she “found what her heart wanted.”

When I took a step back from the book after reading it, I realized I got way more involved with the characters than I normally do. As I read, I quoted the book and narrated Jasmine’s life to those around me (mostly my mother, who eventually began asking me for updates in Jasmine’s life) which speaks volumes (pun intended) about how well-written the novel is. Though written in accessible prose, the sentences are woven in such a way that the reader feels almost part and parcel of the action, of which there is plenty.Jasmine Falling is almost overwhelming in its back-to-back twists and turns, but each new plot element follows naturally from the one that preceded it.

Religion plays a more central role in Jasmine Falling than the title would suggest. Malherbe’s novel is  peppered with references to Islam, but the book doesn’t feel “Islamic,” nor do the references disrupt the flow of the story. In fact, the references propel the story as Jasmine goes down the path of growth and self-understanding. The adhan (call to prayer) in the countryside provides a cadence against which readers can measure the passage of the day. The Arabic greetings provide a layer of authenticity to the novel. Jasmine’s gradually increasing usage of phrases such as “alhamdulillah”  and her slow recollection of Islamic teachings she learned as a child (and abandoned as a teenager) artfully indicate her growth of character.

Despite the elements of Islam in Jasmine Falling, there are several themes in the novel that may appeal to a non-Muslims just as much as Muslims.  My mother,  who is a sixty-year-old Christian, was just as eager to hear about Jasmine as I was to read about her. Jasmine appealed to my mother’s sense of adventure. Those with ties to Middle Eastern culture will enjoy that aspect of the novel. Third culture children (people who grew up in a  culture different from that of their parents) and people whose parents are from two different places but they themselves only grew up in one would enjoy Jasmine Falling the most. Much of Jasmine’s internal conflict centers around cultural reconciliation. She grew up in England, and after her father disappeared, her mother essentially ignored Jasmine’s Palestinian half. Jasmine, who remembers her father, felt the emptiness, but decided to immerse herself in English culture. When she goes to Palestine, she is filled with a mix of nostalgia for the old sights and smells and regret at having let her roots slip away.

Reading this novel certainly made me realize how important it is to acknowledge and celebrate all of the cultures in which I was raised. I’m both more proud to be black and less hesitant to call myself American. Just as Jasmine realized the rejection of her father’s culture left her flailing for grounding, I have begun to  realize that the food, the media, and the traditions I grew up with make me who I am. Trying to stifle the minority culture (black) to better conform to the majority culture (American) split my personality unnecessarily, and left me generally confused. My new-found embracement of my hyphenated identity is perhaps indicative of why I enjoyed it so much: Jasmine, in a way, is me.

Though Jasmine’s reason for going to Palestine was not a happy one, the novel is not very grim. There are dark moments, as there are in most novels, but Malherbe managed to strike a balance between the uplifting moments and the somber ones. Jasmine is a youthful, audacious character, almost to the point of recklessness at times. She follows her instincts and is not afraid to speak up when she witnesses injustice. It was refreshing to read something about a Muslim woman that didn’t paint her life as exceedingly difficult, and that didn’t involve her overcoming some form of culture-based oppression that she blamed on religion.Jasmine Falling will remain on my shelf for some time to come, and I hope to find more books worthy enough to join it.

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Click here to read an interview with Shereen

#Review: Jasmine Falling

#Poem: My Children Will Be Black

My children will grow up loving

their hair

with its voluminous curls and kinky strands

My children will grow up accepting

their thick lips and wide hips

regardless of whether the media deems them beautiful

My children will grow up knowing

the countries in Africa and

remembering

that matriarchal societies once reigned supreme

My children will grow up responding

that they are from the United States of America

every time someone asks…and asks again in disbelief

My children will grow up understanding

that they shouldn’t walk down the street with their hands in their pockets

that they cannot approach the police for help at night

that they should never enter a store wearing a trench coat

even if it’s cold and rainy outside

My children will grow up worshiping

our Lord (swt)

not some eurocentric, idolatrous image of Him (swt)

My children will grow up hearing

that they are the embodiment of excellence

even if their teachers and classmates think otherwise

My children will grow up juggling

the complexities of an identity that is at once magnificent and ever so unfortunate

My children will grow up resisting

the systems meant to “keep them in their place”

My children will grow up uniting

themselves along lines of justice

My children

will be Black.

 

#Poem: My Children Will Be Black

Poem: Waiting

I’m standing here waiting for the rest of my life.

The room is cold, white, silent.

The storm last year nearly killed me, and that was while I was in the room;

I’d rather not take my chances and leave it.

I shout into the emptiness.

“MA VIE! JE VOUS ATTENDS!”

My voice echoes off the walls

and returns to my ears distorted and too loud.

I crouch and cover my head to defend myself from the aerial attack.

I whisper to the ground,

“人生,我等您。”

Sitting.

Legs forward, hands in my lap, I wait.

I grow bored.

Stand.

Search for a mirror.

I find that the darkness outside turns the window into a reflective surface.

I wish I’d found a mirror.

I can’t smash my reflection in the window,

it’d break my hand.

Besides,

I don’t want to let the storm in.

I pace

the room,

playing with my hands.

The shelf is lined with all of my favorite books.

There are only books I’ve read in the waiting room.

I don’t want to be bothered with books that aren’t worth my time.

Life,

you have beaten me, insulted me, enslaved me, stripped me, tormented me, kicked me relentlessly when I no longer attempted to pick myself up.

My blood is on your shoe, and I certainly didn’t put it there.

Why then, am I waiting for you?

They tell me you’re good.

I can see the truth in it.

When you weren’t slapping me, you were making me laugh.

You’ve given me excitement, love, friendship, pleasure.

But every coin has two sides, doesn’t it?

I wait in trepidation

I wait in titillation.

Until you take me from this station

and deliver me from my nation.

The door opens.

I stand frozen, unsure whether to run towards it

or away from it.

It’s not a fear of the unknown; I know exactly what will come through that door.

I’m just not sure I’m ready for it.

 

 

Poem: Waiting

Poem: Ain’t I a Woman, too?

Even if my hips don’t sway with each step,

Even if I don’t have beach waves

flowing down to my waist,

Ain’t I a woman, too?

 

Even if I don’t get married

Even if I don’t have kids,

Ain’t I a woman, too?

 

Why do we employ

such narrow definitions

of womanhood and femininity?
Ain’t I a woman, too?

 

Is my skin too dark,

Hair too kinky?

Are my nails too short are

My interest too masculine?

Ain’t I a woman, too?

 

And if I’m a woman,

Don’t I deserve respect?

 

Why is it okay for you to ask to see me,

All of me,

When I have clearly chosen not to

give the world that privilege?

 

Does veiling make me less of a woman?

less of a person?

Aren’t women people, too?

 

I am in a wheelchair,

wearing a back brace,

I’m missing an arm,

But ain’t I a woman, too?

 

If I’m not a person

I will still choose to be present

You will perceive me

And change your perception

Because I am a woman, too

 

Poem: Ain’t I a Woman, too?

This Poem Isn’t About Race -OR- Sarabi’s Manifesto

Take.

Take. Take. Take.

They took from us and called it giving

And told us to be glad we were still living

They took our cultures and gave them class

They took our religions and said they saved our a—

They took our languages and called it education

They took our names and called it social foundation

They took our stuff then started to race

Then got upset when we couldn’t keep pace

Now it’s our fault, we’re to blame

Because we failed to win their game

They dumped our chocolate bodies into the pot

Piled high, tempers boiling hot

They dumped our chocolate bodies in-

-to one big hot garbage bin

Then they went and dumped in sugar

Ta sweetin’ us up an’ mek us taste gooder

 

Well hun, this chocolate ain’t burnt

That I know

And it don’t take the Bible to tell me so

All that’s left is for me to be

Truly, wholly, sincerely, unapologetically me

This Poem Isn’t About Race -OR- Sarabi’s Manifesto

Poem: Speaking in Tongues

I almost wish I had an accent.

Almost.

I almost wish I had something linking me to my maybe roots

Almost wish I had something other

Than this sometimes southern-twinged “white people speak”

To let people know that I, too, come from somewhere

that I, too, have a background

almost.

Because this sometimes speech almost

saves me from the definite rebuke

people of my complexion

have grown accustomed to

Because accents are somehow the defining measure of

intelligence

So even though I desperately want to be linked to somewhere

I also enjoy the tiny bit of white privilege that rubbed off on me

I almost wish I had an accent

But sometimes yea I guess I’m a little glad

it’s just a wish.

Poem: Speaking in Tongues

Poem: Danger, Fear, and Urgency

 

I don’t want my daughter to experience the horror

of a strange man grabbing her or

one of her friends as they walk down the street.

I don’t want strangers to question why she’s in school,

saying

she’s too ugly and stupid to be anything but a prostitute

and

“reminding” her she doesn’t need to be able to read to lie on her back.

I don’t want strangers to express surprise at her collegiate-level reading ability,

Though she’s been reading on that level since the 5th grade

and is, in fact, in college.

I don’t want people to gush over how articulate she is

after she’s spoken a carefully selected 4-syllable word.

 

It seems we are always articulate,

implying our words are of no more than a perfunctory nature,

never eloquent,

because it takes education to convey meaning

(surely, we are uneducated),

and always less-than.

Poem: Danger, Fear, and Urgency