by Rana Asfour
Saadia Faruqi is a Pakistani American writer, self-taught interfaith activist, and speaker who does not shy away from how the world has come, in recent years, to view the country of her birth, Pakistan. Thanks to ‘newsworthy’ reports from that country that ‘range from violent to pitiful’, most westerners, she argues in the introduction of her debut book of short stories, have now come to think of the country she left at 21 ‘either as a haven for extremists or a prison for women and minorities’ with little reference to the not-so-newsworthy stories pertaining to ‘Pakistan’s rich culture or colourful daily life’.
‘Brick Walls’ is a collection of seven stories about fictional characters in ‘situations based on metaphorical walls, unique struggles created by the exceptional culture and environment that is Pakistan’. They were inspired by the writer’s visit back to Pakistan when her father, a secret philanthropist, passed away in 2012 – Faruqi lives in Houston, Texas.
Pakistanis face these brick walls every day, and how they surmount them is called 'life'. I can't join them in their struggles. I can only tell their stories' - 'Brick Walls' by Saadia Faruqi
The seven stories that make up the collection are stand alone stories in which each offers up its unique memorable plot made up of everyday characters going about doing unexceptional everyday things. Yet, in each story the ordinary is transformed into the extraordinary and it is anyone's guess what happens next. That is not to say that the stories do not share a common theme, for they do. However, it is one that is subtly delivered (no preaching here) allowing for both the characters and the readers to grow, possibly to learn, from the experience: That although we are all so very different when it comes to our beliefs, cultures, and languages, each of us seeks to be happy, able to live a life free from suffering and pain, a life with a better future for our children and ourselves.
And when it comes to characters and settings, writer Saadia Faruqi, has definitely done her homework. She knows her characters inside out, they are believably real, exceptionally engaging and interact really well with the settings conjured up by the writer. The characters are meant to be who they are and they are meant to be where Faruqi has decided they should be. Every story flows easily into its conclusion and many characters will remain with the reader long after their stories have ended. As Faruqi seamlessly and convincingly shifts between male and female voices, old and young, religious and secular, it becomes easy to forget that the same person penned each story. This is a superbly well-executed endeavour and testament to Faruqi’s command of her craft. Right language, right tone, right story to a tee!
So much of traditional, as well as modern music, is about God and religion. Not just here in Pakistan, where we have the naat and the qawwali, but in the West too, where they have Christian music in a variety of formats. It's because all human beings find solace in music of some sort' - from the story 'Tonight's the Night' - 'Brick Walls' by Saadia Faruqi
So, why must you read this book? Because 31-year old Lubna’s story will lodge itself forever deep in your heart and the story of Farzana, the cantankerous recently liberated 65-year-old grandmother will offer moving insight to what it means to be old. Read it for Nida, the ten-year-old girl with a cricket obsession; Asma the lackluster seamstress increasingly seeking refuge in a dream world of angels; Faisal the would-be terrorist, Javed Gul the Pushto rock singer offering hope to the people of Peshawar, and Rabia Nawab, daughter of Malik Nawab, 'mistress of them all, princess of her own little private Kingdom' and the love of her life Pasha.
If what Madeleine L’Engle says is true in that stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving, then writer Saadia Faruqi with her collection of stories adds much to this narrative; A narrative that gives reign to the seldom heard voices of Pakistan. Faruqi’s stories of her fellow country men –though mainly women - shine a light on ‘a nation full of kind-hearted individuals struggling to make their society better with optimism and resolve’.
I love what I'm doing, because I feel that I'm offering hope of a new tomorrow to so many people living in Peshawar. If I die today I will feel as if I have left a mark on this little corner of the world, and I'll die happy' - from the story 'Tonight's the Night' - 'Brick Walls' by Saadia Faruqi
In a perfect world Faruqi would like nothing more than an endless supply of mystery thriller novels. On her website, she writes that she is ‘still waiting for someone to write that perfect Pakistani or Muslim spy/crime story, preferably with a heroine named Saadia. I have never had such intentions and yet to my delight one of her characters has my first name and lives in one of the most moving stories of the collection. Suffice to say that 'Rana' - in the story - is 'a retired therapist with decades of experience helping mentally unstable patients'. She practically saves the heroine's life. Not bad, right? Now, I shan’t tell you which one it’s in so you’ll just have to read the book to find out!
Saadia Faruqi is a Pakistani American writer of fiction and nonfiction. She writes for a number of print and online publications about the global contemporary Muslim experience and about interfaith dialogue. She has trained law enforcement on cultural sensitivity issues and offers community college classes on a variety of topics related to Islam and Muslims. She is editor-in-chief of Blue Minaret, a magazine for Muslim art, poetry and prose. Her short stories have been published in several American literary journals and magazines. Check out her fiction and non fiction HERE.
For ten interesting facts about Saadia Faruqi, click HERE & to read an extract, click HERE.