Books by Authors of Color: Book 10
Title: The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf
Author: Mohja Kahf
A friend of mine gave me a copy of this book several years ago adamant that I would love it as much as she did. Unfortunately due to working full time and going to school full time, this book remained on my bookshelf until recently.
Khadra Shamy is a Syrian-American girl living in Indianapolis during the 1970’s. Not only is Khadra an immigrant, she is Muslim. Which, in Indiana in the 1970’s was not exactly a popular thing. Luckily for Khadra and her brother Eyad they live in a small Muslim Community, their parents working for a Muslim organization known as the Dawah center. Which spreads religious knowledge and charity to their own and other communities of Muslims. The first several chapters of this book dragged. Having grown up in a Muslim household they read as an “Islam 101” textbook, explaining things like Salah (prayer) and haram (forbidden), which for me brought me back fifteen years or so to Sunday school. For someone who knew nothing about Islam it probably would have been interesting but for people who know quite a bit about Islam? It’s a refresher that just goes on and on. There is however a really amusing portion about how difficult it was during the 1970’s to avoid pork.
Moving on, catastrophic moment in this book is supposed to be the death of an older girl, Zuhura. A brutal murder from KKK violence that takes place in Martinsville, Indiana. This is supposed to be what haunts Khadra, but really, her death is mentioned in the beginning of the book (after the Islam 101) and then only brought up occasionally. It’s not until the end of the book that we hear about Zuhura’s murder and the effect it had on Khadra.
Instead the majority of the book follows Khadra. Who throughout the book maintains the air of superiority. She starts out as an Islamic holier-than-thou type as a child. Which would have been excusable, only it doesn’t go away. We see Khadra get married, have her marriage fail, have a crisis of faith until the end where she finds the balance between “American” and “Muslim”. But her “I’m doing this right and the rest of you are dumb” attitude doesn’t fail or falter. She realizes that her parents are quite racist, especially towards the African American Muslims in their community, but never really says anything about it. It kind of gets “dealt with” at the end, but it’s really just Khadra proving that she’s not like her parents.
The book itself is written extremely well, Mohja has a way with metaphors and prose that doesn’t leave anything to be desired, but the plot just seemed to drag on. Mohja does get extra points because there is a character named Mahasen.
Overall Rating: 2/5 but I’d read something else by her.