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The Writing on My Forehead: A Novel

The Writing on My Forehead: A Novel

4.3 13
by Nafisa Haji

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“A brainy, beautiful braid of stories about three generations of a Muslim family. This book…will go a long way toward deconstructing stereotypes about American Muslims, and that, on top of its value as a work of fiction, makes it a treasure.” — Minneapolis Star Tribune

A brilliant bestselling debut novel from author Nafisa


“A brainy, beautiful braid of stories about three generations of a Muslim family. This book…will go a long way toward deconstructing stereotypes about American Muslims, and that, on top of its value as a work of fiction, makes it a treasure.” — Minneapolis Star Tribune

A brilliant bestselling debut novel from author Nafisa Haji, The Writing on My Forehead describes one woman’s struggle with the Indo-Pakistani traditions of her family and her own independence. The San Francisco Chronicle calls Nafisa Haji a “talented new writer of sense and a distinct sensibility,” and Khaled Hosseini, beloved author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, calls The Writing on My Forehead “a moving meditation… lyrical and touching.”

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Haji traces in her impressive debut the fortunes of a family divided by secrets and lies as much as by the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent. Saira Qader, an American teenager of Indo-Pakistani descent, lives a sheltered life in California with her older sister, Ameena, and their overprotective and fiercely traditional parents. Saira's view of her family changes dramatically when she attends a wedding in Karachi and learns that her mother had lied to her about Saira's grandfather: he is not dead but living in London with a second family. As she learns more about her grandfather's work with Gandhi and the independence movement, Saira dreams of going to college instead of marrying early like her sister, and later carves out a life as a war journalist. But an unforeseen tragedy makes her choose between her peripatetic existence and the more traditional (and perhaps more desirable) setup awaiting her at home. Haji achieves an effortless commingling of family and social history in this intricate story that connects a young woman and her family over continents and through generations. (Mar.)

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Library Journal

Saira, the protagonist of Haji's first novel, is a young American woman whose parents are immigrants from India and Pakistan. She spends her early life resisting her mother's pressure to follow tradition and marry within her culture. Instead, Saira wishes to go away to college and pursue a career in journalism. Yet the best parts of the story are the rich characterizations of Saira's extended family, especially great-aunt Big Nanima and cousin Mohsin, who have successfully bucked tradition as well. Saira's mother, so well intentioned in her tunnel vision, is also a wonderful creation. Less convincing are the brief references to Saira's academic and professional life and, most of all, her love affair with a fellow writer. On the whole, though, the struggles of second-generation immigrants are well presented, calling to mind novels like Monica Ali's Brick Lane. In addition, the climax is powerful and satisfying, as Saira belatedly comes to recognize the inescapable tug of family. Recommended for all libraries.
—Evelyn Beck

Kirkus Reviews
In Haji's debut novel, an Indo-Pakistani Muslim tries to balance her family's traditional values and her independent nature. As the story begins, adult Saira suffers a nightmare in which "twin plumes of smoke rise" above a destroyed city and a woman is shot to death. Awake, Saira remembers growing up in California with her older sister Ameena and their moderately conservative Muslim parents. Ameena is the beauty, Saira the brains. In 1983, 14-year-old Saira makes a life-changing trip to Pakistan to attend a family wedding alone because her mother and sister refuse to attend. On the way to Pakistan she learns her mother's family secret: Saira's grandfather left Saira's beautiful but unsophisticated grandmother, with whom he had an arranged marriage, for a young British woman, his soul mate with whom he had three children. On her way home from Pakistan, Saira stays in London with her paternal uncle's family and learns another secret from her cousin Mohsin-their paternal grandfather's idealistic devotion to Gandhi caused him to neglect his family. Back in California, while Ameena happily agrees to an arranged marriage, Saira becomes a mildly rebellious teen, appearing in a play without her parents' knowledge. Then she goes to college, where she experiments with drinking, drugs and sex, including having a brief affair with a visiting journalist/scholar. After a break with her family that Haji, herself an Indo-Pakistani, coyly avoids explaining, Saira begins traveling the world as a journalist with now openly gay Mohsin, a photographer. She reunites with her family when her mother is dying. Ameena, who has become seriously devout, is happily married with an adorable daughter. Saira takes herwidowed father back to India, where he remarries and begins to work at the clinic his father founded years earlier. After Ameena, who has begun to wear a hijab, is shot to death in the aftermath of 9/11, Saira rushes home to sort out her priorities. A welcome glimpse into a much-misunderstood culture suffers from newcomer Haji's tendencies toward long-winded religious/philosophic musing. Agent: BJ Robbins/BJ Robbins Literary Agency

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The Writing on My Forehead

Chapter One

I close my eyes and imagine the touch of my mother's hand on my forehead, smoothing away the residue of childhood nightmares. Her finger moves across my forehead, tracing letters and words of prayer that I never understood, never wanted to understand, her mouth whispering in nearly silent accompaniment. Now, waking from the nightmare that has become routine—bathed in sweat, breathing hard, resigned to the sleeplessness that will follow—I remember her soothing touch and appreciate it with an intensity that I never felt when she was alive.

I shake my head to dispel the longing. The world has changed around us, and, because of all that has happened, I know it is my time to give comfort and not to receive it—not that I have yet proven equal to the task. Shoving myself out of bed, I make the quiet nightly journey across the hall. I pause in the doorway of my sister's childhood room. Her daughter, Sakina, is asleep—a little lump, rising and falling slightly with each even breath, curled up in the corner of Ameena's old bed, apparently at ease with the night and its quiet in a way I have not been for a very long time.

Every night, I have the same nightmare.

I search through a crowd of people on an endless expanse of green lawn, pushing past bow-tied waiters in white uniforms who carry trays piled high with biscuits, sandwiches, and tea. There are tables draped in white linen, chairs occupied by aunties and uncles. Beyond the garden, there is a pavilion trimmed in teak, furnished with cane-backed chairs where the pale, white ghosts of British officers and their wives,the founders of this place, whose names are still etched on plaques at the front entrance, congregate to laugh at the antics of the natives, swirling their gin and scotch, clinking their glasses.

My search is urgent, every moment that passes means loss. And death. I know I am dreaming. But the knowledge doesn't alleviate the urgency. If I find Ameena in time, then everything will be all right. As I approach the edge of the crowd, I see what I did not see before—that the endlessness is merely an illusion. There are high walls surrounding the lawn. From beyond them, I hear a roar of sound, which drowns out the clinking of glasses, the laughter and chatter of the people around me. Over the walls, which seem to be shrinking, getting lower so that what is outside is starting to become visible, I see crowds of angry people, clouds of dust and debris that hover over a city of ruins. In the distance, I see twin plumes of smoke rising up out of the chaos.

I turn away from the fearsome sight and see her. She stands alone, at the other edge of the crowd. A path clears. I run. Before I can reach her, I am distracted by voices behind me, calling my name. I stop and turn to see whose they are. There is an old woman urging me to hurry. Another old woman, my grandmother, who shakes her head sadly. An old man dressed like Gandhi, battered and bruised, throws his shoulders back and shouts something I cannot hear, raising his fist in protest. There is another white woman, different from those officers' wives in the pavilion, dancing by herself to a tune I cannot hear, her arms encircling an imaginary partner. These are all familiar characters from stories I know, stories I have lived my life by.

I turn my back on all of them because Ameena is still there, alone, at the edge of the crowd. She is wearing red, the color she wore at her wedding, her head draped by the long dupatta of her outfit. I begin to run when I see her, shouting a warning she does not hear. From somewhere behind me, a gun is shot. Ameena falls to the ground, the red of her blood darkening the red of her clothing. I scream, but I make no sound.

There is someone beside me. A child. She was with me all the time, running through the crowd, trying to save her mother. I turn to face her and see her arms outstretched. I lift my own to meet hers and find I am holding something in my hand. She sees it, too, and recoils. I look down and understand why. I was wrong. The shot did not come from behind me. It came from the gun in my hand.

There are no secrets here—I know exactly what the dream means. It is what I should do that I cannot resolve. I approach the bed and stare down at Sakina for a moment. Her face is hidden, turned away from mine. Her arms are wrapped tightly around a little doll that used to be Ameena's. I wrap mine around myself and marvel at how easily she has staked her claim. On Ameena's room. On Ameena's toys. I remember battles fought with my sister in trying to do the same. Battles and skirmishes, which always ended with a story from our mother. But that was long ago—in the days when I was young enough to want whatever Ameena had. In the days before I began to roll my eyes at our mother's stories. As I turn to leave the room, my eyes fall on a jewelry box on the dresser. And the memory of one of those battles is so clear that I can feel Ameena's arms around me, now, as her daughter sleeps in the room where the skirmish took place.

Ameena's grip around me was so tight that I had to struggle to free one hand. But I did, reaching up immediately to grab a clump of hair and pull for all I was worth. She shrieked, but not as loudly as the howling I had commenced upon losing hold of Ameena's jewelry box, which she had found me playing with in her room. Her hair was her Achilles' heel, long and straight, easy to grab and hold on to. Also a target, perhaps, because I was jealous of it. My own, my mother kept boyishly short—because I was a wild creature, she said, and it was too much trouble for her to try and keep it tame.

The Writing on My Forehead. Copyright © by Nafisa Haji. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Nafisa Haji's first novel, The Writing on My Forehead, was a finalist for the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association Book of the Year Award. An American of Indo-Pakistani descent, she was born and raised in Los Angeles and now lives in northern California with her husband and son.

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The Writing on my Forehead (P.S. Series) 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was completely taken by this beautifully written debut Novel by Nafisa Haji to the point that I had to read it twice to fully savour the rich prose with which this author writes. The Writing on My Forehead(which in many cultures denotes "destiny" or "kismet" --- a hidden meaning as the author uses a more literal reference in the book)is a mesmerizing story about Saira Qader, a rebellious second-generation immigrant woman, and her journey to find herself, to come to terms with a recent haunting tradegy, and above all to give meaning to her life. As a journalist travelling all over the world to bear witness, she revisits, unearths, learns from, and is inspired by the "devilish details" in the wisdom of old multi-generational stories of her family that grew up in the Indian Sub Continent---stories of courage, scandals, and independence. This book has rich, complex, yet touchable characters that come to life and stay with the reader much after the last page. For a debut novel, this is a six star performance and I remain eager to read more from this author in years to come. Highly recommended !!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is definitely not as good as the Kite Runner, but it is interesting enough for you to keep reading.
NormaS More than 1 year ago
This was an easy read and I couldn't put it down. I had to keep reading to see what happened next. The author brought the characters to life, had you involved emotionally with them. Although the theme was about a different cluture than I was raised with the actions of the characters were universal. It reminds us that we are all the same. I did not expect the ending, which was a good thing. A surprise ending is always welcome. I was sorry to finish the book and say goodbye to the characters. I wanted to know more about their lives.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In California, teenager Saira Qader is a second generation Muslim-American whose views on life radically differs from her immigrant parents from India and Pakistan respectively. She even senses the gap between her and her older sister Ameena who married the choice of their parents. Saira wants to attend college like most of her school friends plan to do, but knows her overprotective old country (that is before the 1947 partition) parents want her settled in marriage to someone they choose.

In 1983 at a family wedding in Karachi, fourteen years old Saira attends by herself as her mom and sis refuse. She is stunned to learn her mother lied about her maternal grandfather; instead of being dead, he lives in London far from his days as a Gandhi freedom fighter; he is patriarch to another family with his British soulmate and three offspring. That revelation leads to her going to college where she experiments with drugs and sex; once she graduates she becomes an international war correspondent which leads to an estrangement with her family. A few years later, she comes home as her mom is near death and her sister is a totally devout Muslim. Not long after mother¿s death father returns to India while soon after that Ameena is shot in mob retaliation for 9/11 because she wears a hijab. Saira begins to look again at her Asian roots vs. her Americanization.

This is an intriguing glimpse of a Muslim-American family struggling with tradition of the first generation and the assimilation of the second. The story line occurs over a few decades so the audience obtains the metamorphosis, especially of the lead character Saira. The cast in America, London and in Pakistan (incredibly prfound is her Aunt Big Nanima) is fully developed so that the audience learns the impact of globalization on American assimilation. This is a deep look at a Muslim making it in the United States.

Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Meet me at 'gda' res two.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Walks in a strips.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Walks in
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He heads in takes off all clothes and waits
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