The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf: A Novel Reviews

UPDATE TIME: 2017-08-31 
Review Score: 4 out of 5 star From 43 user ratings

"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 Téta 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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" Interesting yet boring at parts, if it wasn't for school I probably wouldn't have gone looking for it but overall I liked it. " said.

" 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.

"Earlier this year I decided I want to read more books by diverse authors. I especially want to read more from the perspective of the Islamic community, both here and abroad. One of the reasons I enjoy reading is because it opens me to perspectives and experiences that I may not ever have otherwise. I've read multiple books by Middle Eastern authors this year, but The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf is the first I have read from the perspective of a Muslim woman living in America.

Set in Indiana in the 1970's, this story explores what it is like to come of age in a place where you are consistently "the other" and often "the enemy." Khadra lives with her father, mother and two brothers in a small Muslim community in Indiana. Her father is one of the coordinators for an Islamic community center. While Khadra and her family live in America, eventually even becoming citizens after the Iranian revolution, they do not wish to become part of American culture. In fact, as Khadra grows up, it becomes harder and harder for her to hold to the rigid tenets of a culture she loves deeply, but which she also feels keeps her from becoming fully herself. 

Told as a retrospective from an adult Khadra who has broken away from her community and lives independently as a photo-journalist, this is a coming of age story unlike any I have read before. Khadra is brave, beautiful and complicated in ways which make her more alike than unlike any of us who struggle to find our voice and our way. Her spiritual struggles resonated deeply with questions I have asked of my own theology and faith community. 

I loved this story deeply. While in part I think it may be a case of the perfect book at the perfect time, I also know it's a beautiful and important story for any person at any time. This is one of my favorites of the year so far. I can't wait to read more by this author and about Islamic culture.
" 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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