Book Review: In the Language of Miracles

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In the Language of Miracles is a book I finished a few weeks ago. Honestly though, it still hasn’t been far from my mind since finishing. Hassib has written a debut that was a winner from the very first pages. Overall, In the Language of Miracles is an excellent and thought provoking read. And at the beginning, in the Prologue, I had the sense that I was reading something from Khaled Hosseini. There was something mesmerizing about how the story was being told, almost in a mythical or folk-tale way in which some of the traditions and rituals being imparted by a grandmother on to her youngest grandson, Khaled. Khaled holds a favoured status in his family. and at the age of nine, he fell sick. His grandmother travelled all the way from Egypt, armed with incense, holy water from a well at Mecca and a book of prayers. His grandmother then told him the story of this Well, all while his older brother Hosaam smirked in the corner of his room.

From there, the novel opens begins on a Wednesday, present day, and one year after a terrible tragedy struck the Al-Menshawys family and their neighbours, the Bradstreets. Prior to the tragedy, (not yet named), the Al-Menshawys and Bradstreets were the best of friends. This friendship began the moment Samir and Nagla moved into their first home purchased after immigrating to the US from Egypt. Samir was working through his internship and developing his family practice in the new neighbourhood where they purchased their first home. Hosaam was their first born, and when they moved in, he quickly and immediately became friends with the Bradstreets’ daughter, Natalie.

Many years after this first meeting, Hosaam and Natalie are now dead, and the Al-Menshawys have become outcasts in their community. Samir’s medical practice is failing and Hosaam’s sister, Fatima and brother, Khaled are desperate to leave this place behind and start a new life elsewhere. The story told In the Language of Miracles is told one year after Hosaam and Natalie’s death, and over the five-day period following the announcement by Cynthia Bradstreet that a memorial would be held for Natalie, to mark the one year anniversary of her death.

From this moment on, following this announcement from Cynthia, In the Language of Miracles unfolds into this compelling and oh so thought provoking read. The reason why Hosaam and Natalie are dead is revealed, the stress and tension between the Al-Menshawys family members and upon themselves individually builds surrounding this upcoming memorial for Natalie. The story becomes one that shows how one family comes completely unraveled, but a family that also has anger directed at them for this tragedy.

Hosaam and Natalie were dating when Natalie decided to break it off. Hosaam, consumed with anger and grief, kills Natalie and then himself. (Sorry, I am not spoiling, it is revealed fairly early on, and you can guess before it’s officially revealed as well.) This is already a terrible tragedy and the story is the same as it would be to all kinds of families and communities.  But combine that with the current American emotion and fear over Middle Eastern immigrants, terrorism, religion, etc. and you not only have this family that is crumbling from the inside out, not just because of their grief, suffering and sorrow over the death of their son, and of the guilt over the murder of his girlfriend, but also because of the emotion and hatred directed toward the Al-Menshawys family due to their nationality.

We follow Samir and his reasoning for going against everyone in the family with his plans to attend and speak at the memorial for Natalie; we listen to Nagla as she tears herself apart with guilt for not recognizing the changes in Hosaam and her deep depression and sadness that doesn’t allow her to leave her bedroom most days, neglecting her other children; and we hear from Khaled, who has had to shut down his Facebook account and remove himself from social media so that he doesn’t have to read the hatred that is spewed and directed at his family. He is suffering under the shadow of his older brother and is hanging on to something Hosaam shared with him just before he killed Natalie and himself. All of their angst, guilt, anger, sadness, feelings towards their family members, culminates at the memorial.

Hassin has taken these two (highly emotional) components and weaved them seamlessly into this tremendously compelling and beautifully told story. This story about a family falling apart is, to use a well-worn statement, one that will stay with you long after you’ve finished. You’ll be thinking long and often about Khaled, Samir and Nagla…thinking about their circumstances, their family, their actions, turning over in your mind what you would do, how you feel….an excellent read! 4 stars.

Literary Hoarders Penny rev