Friday, 14 April 2017

Book Review: Jihadi Jane by Tabish Khair.

Book: Jihadi Jane

Author: Tabish Khair

Pages: 216

Publisher: Penguin 

Read On: Paperback

How Long it Took Me To Read: 2 days

Plot Summary: High-school best friends Ameena and Jamilla couldn’t be more different: while one smokes cigarettes in their school playground, the other is a member of her mosque’s discussion group in suburban Yorkshire. When heartbreak and doubt leave Ameena bereft and alone, she turns to Jamilla’s beloved Allah for solace and purpose.  

It is then that both girls find themselves entranced by a powerful Internet preacher—Hejjiye, a woman running an orphanage home in support of the men fighting in the name of jihad. Leaving their families and country behind, they run to join the Islamic State in Syria to serve a cause they unquestioningly believe in.  

However, things begin to change for the worse once Ameena marries Hassan, a jihadi leader, and suddenly Jamilla begins to see the world that she left everything for differently. Getting out is almost impossible, but there is one way. Will the girls choose a path which might change their lives beyond recognition?  

Heart-wrenching, masterful and stunningly powerful, Jihadi Jane paints a vivid picture of militant-brides operating around the world and the terrifying cost of religious fanaticism.

General Thoughts: Jihadi Janes and Jihadi Johns are such an important and relevant topic. I have read quite a few articles on the same in the New Yorker and The New York Times and I find it endlessly fascinating. Like so many people, I have found myself wondering why people from good families and good and seemingly ordinary background would give up their comfortable 'first-world' lives to go fight for cause that might seem so far away from their lives? Is it a simple matter of faith? Religious fanaticism? Or is it something deeper?

When I heard of this book, well over a year ago I was immediately drawn to it.

Things I Liked: 

1. Like I've already stated the premise of this book had me hooked. Why would two young Muslim girls living in England feel the need to abandon all that is familiar to move to an active war zone? What drives them? Or rather who drives/manipulates them to give up their homes and families and the comforts of the first-world? I am always intrigued with what guides human behaviour. I guess once a psychology post-Grad always a Psych head! I wanted to know what made these girls do what they did.

2. From a certain angle this is the story of 2 girls. Seemingly normal, ordinary and regular girls. 2 friends. And story of female friendships is always something that grabs my attention and this book was no different.

3. The writing was fantastic. Poetic and moving in parts. Stark and realistic where it needed to be. This book was a joy to read.

4. The book is split nearly half and half in it's geographic setting. Half in England and in the girl's normal life and the second half in Syria. I quite liked it, even though going in I thought that most of the action would be set in Syria. I quite liked getting to know the girls in their home setting and about their families before they were plunged into chaos.

5. The book does a fantastic job of showing what it is like to be the Other. To not belong. To stick out like a sore thumb. To be nothing more than the girl in a headscarf. To always be stared at and made snap judgements about. I really felt like I was reading about a real person, a real girl and her struggles of growing up Muslim in the Western world.

6. The two girls are wonderfully etched out. And by the end of the book and in some points during the book they will both surprise you. I really felt like I got know each of them very well.

7. Reading about life in Syria and in the eye of storm was riveting. I was on the edge of my seat and deeply unsettled in the entire portion of the book. I kept waiting for something truly horrible to happen! Really intense but it's done so subtly.

8. Even though I kept waiting for something utterly horrid to happen, and sometimes it did. None of it was too graphic thankfully!

9. I also loved (for the lack of a better word) reading about how the girls were lured into this world. I read an article in the New York Times two years ago about how Twitter and other social media platforms are being actively used to befriend and ultimately manipulate and brainwash young and vulnerable people into joining the cause. I find it alarming and scary yet endlessly interesting--once again my years of psychology are to be blamed. :) It kinda reminded me of cults. And how certain people are more vulnerable to being targeted and ultimately pulled into a cult.

10. The life in Syria and how these women lived and the various women we met there were also some of my favourite bits in the book. It felt like we were getting bonus stories.

11. Even though it is is a book about two girls, Jamilla is our main character. We see most of the book from her perspective and I really enjoyed her voice and the tone of her character.

12. Ameena though is more relatable though, her struggles both in England and in her new home are heart breaking. She seems like someone who is constantly struggling to find her place. But her character has such wonderful and surprising growth by the end of the book!

Rating: 4/5

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