Review Blog

Jun 22 2010

Jameela by Rukhsana Khan

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Allen and Unwin, 2010. ISBN: 9781742372594.
Suitable for 10 years and above. This book is set in war-torn Afghanistan after the American intervention and shows some aspects of the effects of war on civilians. In this case the narrator is Jameela, a young girl whose life is turned upside down when she finds her invalid mother dead. Jameela and her father move to the city of Kabul hoping that he can find work there. She is employed as a domestic help for a wealthy family and is envious of the daughter who has a tutor to teach her English.
Her father begins a relationship with another woman who convinces him that life would be cheaper and better without Jameela. So her father abandons Jameela in a city street and she ends up in an orphanage. In many situations she repeats the mantra, 'don't become angry, don't become angry. '
Jameela's mother once told her, 'If you can't be beautiful you should at least be good'. Being a devout Muslim and thus having her face covered by a 'porani,' it is only half way through the book that we realise that she has the deformity of a cleft palate. However she is relatively happy at the orphanage as she is taught English and becomes a quick learner. Jameela grows to understand that people are all different and have both good and bad characteristics.
The story is fiction but based on true incidents. It does a great job of introducing the reader to another culture and religion and the complexities of life. It would be a good text to illustrate childhood resilience and parental neglect. The author was born in Pakistan and has written extensively on Muslim themes, which is a core component of this book also. A glossary of Arabic terms enables the reader to fully understand many of the words and phrases integrated into the text.
Kay Haarsma
(NOTE: It appears that an earlier edition was published by Groundwater in 2009 under the title Wanting Mor.)

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