The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf: A Novel Reviews

UPDATE TIME: 2017-06-17 
Review Score: 4 out of 5 star From 43 user ratings

"I gave this book five stars, not because it ranks up there with To Kill a Mockingbird or other classics, but because I did find it to be amazing--for me. It may be that it was just the right book for me at the right time. I'm a Muslim convert of almost two years and I admit to having been confused by all the different messages you get about what it means to be a Muslim. This book covers almost all of these messages and shows how one Muslim woman incorporated them into her heart and life.

Khadra is not a convert; she was raised in a fairly strict Muslim home from birth. The book follows her from childhood to the age of 26 and paints a convincing portrait of the seeking that a young adult goes through no matter what his or her religion. There are many issues dealt with here: the split between the West and the East, the struggle to find one's identity as an immigrant, racism and discrimination, fundamentalism, wearing the hijab, the meaning of faith, the different kinds of Muslims (Sufi, Shia and Sunni), the controversy over Palestine and Israel--a lot is packed into one book! But most of all, this is a coming-of-age story.

I don't know how confusing I might have found this book if I wasn't a Muslim. (Some reviewers have reported finding it confusing.) I think this would be an excellent book to use in an Intro to Islam course where the issues could be discussed with a knowledgeable teacher. Or in any context where there is dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims. But it would also be a great book to use in a new Muslim class, to help converts understand the whole scope of Islam and not just see a small segment of it.

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"Did not actually finish this one. It wasn't grabbing me, and I'm not sure why. I may try again someday, though the catch is, this was hard to track down. After reading about it on Boston Bibliophile, I was able to find it only at a university library. My public library is really good, so I'm surprised this one isn't on its shelves.

This book is about a community of very, very devout Muslims living in Indiana in the 1970s. The community is tight-knit and very conscious of how outnumbered and misunderstood it is. At the same time, there are fault lines within the community--between Shia and Sunni, between Nation of Islam followers and other Muslims. Lots of big festive gatherings, but also lots of rules about how to behave.

The author painted two images that, for me, represent two contrasting themes. In one, a little girl plays and laughs and rolls around on her grandfather's back while he's praying at mosque. A nice image of gentleness, tolerance, patience. In another, an adult woman is baffled by a transgender visitor at her door (if the visitor is a woman, she should be invited in; if the visitor is a man, hide?). For me, this seemed to show how rules can sometimes be the opposite of helpful.

Nice passages showing what day-to-day religious practice looks like, especially through the eyes of a child. The child-narrator viewpoint may also explain why the characters seem to have such a fascination with the proper way to clean oneself after using the bathroom. The author is willing to be candid about unpleasant contradictions within a religious group (for example, an aunt visiting from Syria makes off-hand racist comments).

I take this book to be about one particular group in one particular place. This group seems so intense and serious, that I found myself doubting that it represents the experience of most Muslims living in the U.S. And that's okay--this book is about one perspective among many. If you want to read about a group that has a very single-minded focus on its faith, a community that binds itself together in essentially a missionary experience, then this may interest you.
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"I thought The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf was very thought-provoking in the sense that it explores one's relationship with religion and family -- one's upbringing can be vastly different than the beliefs that shape one's adult life. I enjoyed reading about the intertwined community and roots that Khadra grew up in -- some parts of it good, some bad, but still deeply formative. Her aunt T├ęta was probably my favorite character, with her wisdom, hidden Ottoman coins, and vibrance. However, the fact is that Khadra goes through some really terrible stuff. Her friend's older sister is brutally raped and murdered by the Ku Klux Klan (and the community armors itself against this terrible incident, somewhat understandably, by shaking their head and blaming the victim, which I can't stand). As Khadra gets older, the veils of innocence fall away and she starts observing how sexist her community really is -- her brother, Eyad, and her parents are consistently against many of her headstrong actions, not to mention the rest of the community. One of the most nauseating parts of the book is definitely when Khadra and her family go on Hajj and then Khadra finds herself stuck with rich, druggie kids and then is raped -- the worst nightmare of any woman, but surely even worse after such a religious experience. When she gets married to a man she hardly knows, Khadra faces much the same from him and an even greater level of communal disapproval, and it's quietly crushing by the time she contracts severe depression and has an abortion -- which all but shatters her life. The rest of the novel deals with Khadra's self-exploration as she goes back to school, meets a wide cast of friends, and redefines what it means to be Khadra Shamys.

I liked the book, but I was nearly drowned by the grief and horror of Khadra's experiences, and it wasn't an enjoyable experience as a beginner trying to explore the bounties of Islam. Not only that, but I also found the shifting tense irritating; it wasn't systematically organized, leaving the reader to deduce the shift from the 1970s to the present by the tense.
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"The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf should be prized for it's whole that is so much greater than the sum of its parts. When I read in bursts, a few chapters at a time, I was struck by the shifting narration - one character's point-of-view here, another's there - and confused by the flashblack form of storytelling that only appears in perhaps the first third of the book. In places I wondered if the book was trying so diligently to capture one Muslim experience that it was going to be a paint-by-numbers. I was wrong.

By the end of the book, the protagonist has gone through unending personal and situational changes. She is still a Muslim, but how - in look and practice - and where is different from before. The language of the book changes too - from the short sentences and precise, yet emotionless phrasing in early chapters, to utter lyricism in the last few, as Kendra considers the more esoteric dimensions of her faith, and muses on finding beauty and inspiration in other cultures. Kahf's style matches the style of her protagonist's Islam - from that of a child, to that of a revolutionary adolescent, to that of a college-student trying to figure out where she fits as a woman . . . and so on.

There are uncomfortable scenes, but Kahf centers us so completely in the bodies of her characters that their thoughts seem perfectly true in the moment, for that person, while the complexities of the situations are left for the reader to explore. Things that seem unexamined in one scene are examined in another, often by an older, changed character, and in this sense the book really does allow us to peek inside someone's psyche, into their spirit, to see what makes them tick, and change, and grow, and think anew.

One of the very best parts of this book, to me, was the constant emblem of the hijab. From the time Kendra dons her first, right through to the very end of the book, the hijab is Kendra's constant companion, and I have never read anything that does the hijab as much justice as this text. The hijab's purpose changes in Kendra's life just as her faith does, and yet its value - as a connection to faith and culture; as armour, as comfort, as devotion - is always clear.

Again, a book with much to make me think!
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" While I learned some things reading this book, I felt it was uneven in its writing. It also would have been helpful to have a glossary of the Muslim terms that are used throughout. " said.

"A deep look at faith and culture - what it means to be raised in a particular faith and how questioning that faith impacts your identity. Khadra is raised in Indiana by Syrian immigrants who are fundamentalist Muslims. Extremely devout as a child, as she grows up, Khadra begins to question the rules, customs and values of her tight-knit community. Ultimately, she must carve out a path for herself in which she can be true to herself, her faith and her values - without completely abandoning her upbringing. A very thoughtful and thought-provolking novel, with compelling characters and dilemmas." said.

" A very honest look at the immigrant Muslim seems to be based off the author's experience growing up near ISNA headquarters. Rather dramatized in parts, it is nontheless a well-written story of growth, self-exploration, and finding one's self and spirituality. Definitely the first "good" Muslim-American piece of literature I've come across. " said.

" This is such a beautiful book. The language is superb, and I expected no less because Mohja Kahf is also an excellent poet, but the topic! Young Muslim American-Syrian woman looking for her own understanding and her own expression of spirituality. It's truly amazing how many questions her, no more than 30 years long, existence on these 400-something pages can answer. Enjoyed every single sentence. 4.5 out of 5. " said.

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