Monday, August 3, 2015

Bright Lines, by Tanwi Nandini Islam

Penguin Books, ISBN 9780143123132, August 2015

This is a really engrossing immigrant family drama, parts of which feel very familiar, not that different from the experiences of my mother's family. Immigrant parents, American children, family left behind in the old country, old family issues that didn't disappear because they moved away.

The difference, of course, is that this family are Muslims from Bangladesh.

Anwar and Hashi Saleem have built a good life in Brooklyn, where they have raised their daughter Charu and their orphaned niece Ella--daughter of Hashi's brother and his wife, murdered by old enemies from the war years. Ella is in college now; Charu has just graduated high school and will start college in the fall. Anwar runs Anwar's Apothecary, selling herbal  health and beauty products which he makes himself. Hashi operates a beauty salon out of a portion of their house.

All four have a summer of discovery and upheaval ahead of them.

Ella comes home from college to find Charu's friend Maya, daughter of a local Muslim cleric, asleep in her bed. Maya has run away from a home life that is increasingly not just strict, but oppressive and even emotionally abusive. Anwar and Hashi decide to let her stay.

The three girls have a summer of adventure, self-discovery, and sensual exploration. Anwar, meanwhile, struggles with his memories of Bangladesh's war for independence from Pakistan, a marriage that has perhaps grown a bit dull after thirty years, and the temptations of a beautiful tenant living on the top floor. He and Hashi both worry for the two girls they've raised and love. When all their secrets blow up for all of them, Anwar packs his family off to Bangladesh to visit their surviving family--Hashi's father and surviving brother, and her dead brother's adopted son.

More discoveries and revelations await them.

This is a novel of character exploration and growth, not a whizzbang plot. The Saleems and their friends and family are flawed, fascinating, and mostly very likable people.

Recommended.

I received a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher via Penguin's First  to Read program