After our review of Boy vs. Girl, a couple readers asked for MMW’s thoughts on The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf. Having really enjoyed the book when I read it last summer, I was happy to oblige! Beware: minor spoiler alerts!
Written by Mohja Kahf, The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf tells the story of Khadra Shamy, a Syrian-American woman returning to her hometown of Indianapolis for the first time in several years. Most of the novel looks back to her childhood and early adulthood during the 1970s and 1980s, as she negotiates questions of religion, identity, racism, and belonging. Interspersed with this is her return to the community at the age of 28 as a magazine photographer doing a story on minority religious communities in America.
Covering a long time span and a variety of geographic locations, the novel follows Khadra’s religious paths, from being the daughter of a Dawah Center worker, through a “surge of religious austerity” in her early teens, a “neoclassical phase” of traditional learning as she gets older, a sense of disillusionment and uncertainty as she comes to question the monolithic image of Islam she grew up with, and ultimately a reconciliation of sorts as she comes to feel more comfortable in her own religious path while appreciating the community where she was raised.
The novel also ties in an impressive range of political issues, reflected in local community relations (Sunni-Shi’a tensions within the Muslim community, and KKK violence and other racism directed at the Muslim community from some others in the city) as well as international issues (the Iranian revolution, the occupation of Palestine, the dictatorship in Syria, etc.)