The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf by Mohja Kahf
What I love about books is their ability to pull you in and make you feel empathy and imagination in instances where you don’t seem to have any connection with the situation at hand. And that’s the power in reading diverse books: you start to understand people who may seem “different” from you are actually not that different, and their struggles with faith have some alignment with your own. This was my experience with The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, which, in my opinion, is criminally under-read.
Mohja Kahf’s novel focuses on Khadra, a Syrian-Muslim immigrant who comes to Indiana in the 1970s as a child, stuck between American culture and the close-knit ties of her Muslim community. As she grows up, she struggles to reconcile her foremost identity—her faith—with her fading ethnic and national identity in the face of her continued life in America. Further, her own marriage seems to cement her as a Muslim woman even as it brings up questions she never thought she’d ask herself: “Is this what I really want?” “Am I this kind of Muslim woman?” “Who am I?”
This is a beautifully written story and one that resonated with me well. I grew up a person of faith and still identify as a Seventh-day Adventist. Because I am a minority religion, I grew up with a lot of niche cultural references and traditions outside mainline and Evangelical Christianity. Therefore, this question of identity struck me squarely in the face. Who am I, and what kind of woman am I within my faith? I asked myself these questions a lot as I read, and I nodded at some of Khadra’s own religious struggles, particularly when thinking about devotion and following certain codes that seem unnecessary or outdated.
I think Kahf’s writing really helps you get to know and empathize with Khadra as a person not unlike yourself. She is complex and not a Mary Sue. She is relatable, but also interesting and dynamic in nature. I highly recommend this book.