“Being free from shame is a beautiful freedom”
Corona is Bushra Rehman’s riveting first novel. The first sentence of the book begins by smashing assumptions; we think “Corona” and think alcoholic beverage. Well, I certainly do. But that’s not what Rehman is writing about.
“Corona, and I’m not talking about the beer. I’m talking about a little village perched between under the number 7 train in Queens between Junction Boulevard and 111th St.”
Corona is a close community in Queens, previously inhabited by many Italians, in which Pakistanis and Dominicans have more recently set up halal meat stores and places of worship. Our protagonist is the intrepid and intelligent Razia Mirza. Razia journeys through sexual, spiritual, cultural and familial realms. In the novel, Rehman subtly focuses on how shame is often a large part of the narrative of Pakistani Muslim girls who are brought up in Western countries.The story is not told in chronological order but flows beautifully, with each short chapter weaving together our understanding of Razia’s feeling and experiences.Rehman lyrically narrates the places: (“…and when I opened the door to my friends Lucy’s and Saima’s house, it’s glass metal sides tugged on the grapevines. Cooled-down rain, which has pooled on the leaves, showered down on me and wet my salwar kameez”) and spaces that are the setting for her stories. Readers can easily visualize the environment of an underground Bhangra club in New York City, hear the sounds of her Italian male friends cackling with laughter on the porch in Queens as they generously pass around a joint, or feel the sticky, hot leather on which Razia sits with her girlfriend while hitchhiking in Florida, where she is intimidated and ogled by an ultra-religious Christian couple.
Razia often describes characters who play a huge role in her life, and how they made her feel judged. Central figures in this role are the familiar “Auntie-types” from her tight-knit Pakistani community, something that many young Muslim women can relate to.
“‘I don’t want to get married.’ It was a knee-jerk reaction from all the years of answering back to meddling-Pakistani aunties who seemed as if they had only one pastime: trying to get the girls in the community married. As soon as they finished with one, they pounced on another. Before the blood was even dry.”
Razia is a self-professed excommunicated member of her family, yet still identifies as a Pakistani Muslim. The fear of being shamed has always been carried close to her identity. [Read more...]