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Saturday, January 16, 2016

2016 Book 14: THE KINDNESS OF ENEMIES by Leila Aboulela

The Kindness of Enemies by Leila Aboulela 
ISBN: 9780802124487 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781101984888 (ebook)
ASIN: B0163BZ1NA (Kindle version)
Publication Date: January 5, 2015
Publisher: Grove Press


It's 2010 and Natasha, a half Russian, half Sudanese professor of history, is researching the life of Imam Shamil, the 19th century Muslim leader who led the anti-Russian resistance in the Caucasian War. When shy, single Natasha discovers that her star student, Oz, is not only descended from the warrior but also possesses Shamil's priceless sword, the Imam's story comes vividly to life. As Natasha's relationship with Oz and his alluring actress mother intensifies, Natasha is forced to confront issues she had long tried to avoid—that of her Muslim heritage. When Oz is suddenly arrested at his home one morning, Natasha realizes that everything she values stands in jeopardy.
Told with Aboulela's inimitable elegance and narrated from the point of view of both Natasha and the historical characters she is researching, The Kindness of Enemies is both an engrossing story of a provocative period in history and an important examination of what it is to be a Muslim in a post 9/11 world.
  
Natasha Wilson is a history professor at a university in Scotland with an interest in 19th-century Russian history, specifically the anti-Russian resistance movement. One of her students, Oz Raja, is reportedly a descendant of one of the most popular leaders of this movement. Befriending this student and his mother sets Natasha on an amazing adventure of self-discovery and reconnecting with her past in The Kindness of Enemies by Leila Aboulela.

At the age of fourteen, Natasha Hussein was adopted by her stepfather and went from being a Sudanese immigrant to a Scottish resident named Natasha Wilson. Born and raised in Khartoum, Sudan by her Christian Georgian mother and nominally-Muslim Sudanese father, Natasha never felt truly comfortable in Sudan or with her father. After her parents divorce and her mother's second marriage, Natasha did her best to fit in. In 2010, she is a college professor that has published several well-received articles and is respected by her peers. She's not quite sure why, but she's drawn to one of her students, Oz (Osama) Raja, a disenfranchised Muslim. Their connection grows due to one of Oz's forefathers, the renowned Imam Shamil. After visiting Oz and his mother, Malak, Natasha has the opportunity to see Imam Shamil's sword and other items. Although Natasha and Malak are concerned about Oz's curiosity about jihad and his perceived persecution of Muslims, neither takes it seriously until Oz is arrested after downloading suspicious materials. In a post-9/11 world, a little suspicion goes a long way and Natasha is perceived to be tainted by her visit to the Raja home and receiving an email from Oz about a possible research project for a dissertation. As Natasha attempts to rebound from these suspicions, she must also contend with phone calls from Sudan about her estranged father's failing health. Is it possible Natasha and Malak missed signs of Oz's radicalization? Is Oz, in fact, being radicalized or simply curious? Are Muslims being unfairly targeted in a post-9/11 world? Can Natasha reconnect with her father and Sudanese heritage? 

After reading The Kindness of Enemies, I had to take a day just to think about it and what I could say about this book. Did I enjoy this book? The answer is a resounding YES! However, The Kindness of Enemies wasn't a book that I could simply finish reading and then set aside. There are stories within stories within stories in this book. There's Natasha's story, past and present; Oz and Malak's story, present; and, then there's the story of Imam Shamil. I was astonished to learn that Imam Shamil was a real leader in the anti-Russia movement in the 19th century. It was fascinating to read about his life, albeit a fictionalized version of his life, and that of his family. I enjoyed the blend of contemporary and historical fiction and the parallels found between the 19th-century and 21st-century storylines (trust me, there are a few...read it for yourself to discover just how many there are). The majority of the characters are all flawed and realistically portrayed. They all have their doubts and fears. This is not a story about being right or wrong or even having the right set of beliefs or not, it is about humans struggling to find their place in the world, do the right thing, and the perception of those struggles and behaviors by others. I get to read a lot of books, some good, some not so good, and The Kindness of Enemies is one of the best books I've had the pleasure to read this year and one that I strongly encourage you to read. I don't normally post a star-rating with my reviews, but I give this book five stars (yes, I really enjoyed it that much). 

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book for review purposes from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


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