Afaf Rahman, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, is the principal of Nurrideen School for Girls, a Muslim school in the Chicago suburbs. One morning, a shooter―radicalized by the online alt-right―attacks the school.
As Afaf listens to his terrifying progress, we are swept back through her memories: the bigotry she faced as a child, her mother’s dreams of returning to Palestine, and the devastating disappearance of her older sister that tore her family apart. Still, there is the sweetness of the music from her father’s oud, and the hope and community Afaf finally finds in Islam.
The Beauty of Your Face is a profound and poignant exploration of one woman’s life in a nation at odds with its ideals.
This wasn’t quite the book I thought it would be, as I expected the author to concentrate on the aftermath of a school shooting. And perhaps that was the whole point of Mustafah’s book, to challenge our preconceived ideas, the stereotypes we have of situations and people within our society.
It started with the schools shooting, not in your everyday multiracial school but the Nurrideen School for Girls, a Muslim school, its headmistress Afaf, who hid in an old confessional as the shooter ran amok. It was almost as she listened to the screams, to the random shots that she saw as the phrase goes, ‘her life flash before her’. Mutsafah, cleverly looked back, to Afaf’s childhood, to her family and what made her the woman she was today.
It was an utterly fascinating and honest portrayal of the conflict religion can cause, of the comfort and sense of belonging it can give to a person.
Afaf at the outset was just an ordinary young girl of an immigrant family, a family whose roots stemmed from Palestine, who hoped to find riches in the suburbs of Chicago. Their family wasn’t perfect, a mother, who really didn’t want to be there, an older sister, the apple of her eye, a father who worked hard and a younger brother,Majeed. As so often happens a major event can set off a reaction, a future that was perhaps not the one anticipated and so it was that the disappearance of older sister, Nada became the catalyst. Afaf was the onlooker, the one who watched as her family fell apart, a mother who recoiled within herself, a father who turned to alcohol.
Afaf, herself was completely lost, the buffer between her warring parents, a sense of responsibility towards her younger brother. It wasn’t until her father found his own religion, took her to a meeting that Afaf finally found a place she belonged, something that brought her comfort and peace.
Story ended you might have thought, but no for me this is where the real crux of the novel lay. Mustafah didn’t give us the happy ever after, she carefully considered what being a Muslim in America actually meant. Did people still view you the same as everyone else, was there general acceptance and how did it change Afaf’s life.
In so many ways, Mustafah gave us an Afaf who on the one hand found life easier, the rituals, the comraderie a comfort, a place where she finally had friends. Yet outside the confines of the mosque, she was met with scorn, derision, the hajib, the outward facing symbol that marked her as different, foreign, not a true American. The twin towers terrorist attack amplified her difference, all Muslims terrorists, unwanted even if she was a born and bred American.
It was a devastating, thought provoking narrative, the shooting the climax, the representation of true hate, of ignorance. Mustafah was careful to maintain a balance, religion at its heart but also the consequences of our upbringing, the role of the media and those around us, another contributing factor to attitudes, and actions.
The Beauty Of Your Face was an important book, it’s themes serious but Mustafah retained the most important essence of a novel, to tell a story, to immerse the reader in the life of Afaf, a life that will be hard to forget.
I would like to thank Legend Press for a copy of The Beauty of Your Face to read and review and to Lucy Chamberlain for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Sahar is the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, a richly complex inheritance which she explores in her fiction. She is a member of Radius of Arab American Writers, as well as a 2015 Voices of Our Nation fellow (VONA). She currently writes and teaches in Illinois.
Follow Sahar on Twitter @SaharMustafah