Thursday, April 23, 2009

I'm A Dumb Ass (A Review Of CAIRO)

Yup. I make no argument against it. I really am.

Before getting too happy about that admission, you might want to know why I'm saying such a thing about myself.

I just finally finished reading CAIRO. I bought it shortly after it came out. I think I pre-ordered it purely on the basis that it was written by a muslima.

Sometimes I procrastinated in reading it. Other times, it got lost in piles of stuff in the living room or bedroom (I live in a cluttered hell of my own creation).

I found it to be an enjoyable read. Not all of the characters get a chance to be fully fleshed out, but they all get at least enough to serve the story.

One of the difficulties I had with it is, as a muslim, I've often thought about writing stories that use the fantastical elements of Islam. But I always cringe at how it tends to come out so weak.

I say weak because the concepts are not my own, as they come from Islam. I say weak because it often feels like I'm writing an Islam Primer, because I'm explaining concepts to a hypothetical reader that are so basic and common knowledge to any muslim.

Ms. Wilson shows me, with CAIRO, that it is my thinking on the subject that was weak. I was looking at it as if I was representative of the majority of the audience when I'd clearly be in the minority. Being a muslim, I believe that I may not have been as wowed by some of the elements of fantasy on display in CAIRO as a non-believer may have, but it did clearly demonstrate to me that what many would refer to as Islamic "mythology" can be utilized for a story sold to a mainstream audience without it being filled with cringe moments.

I was still pretty conscious of the moments where the reader had to be brought up to speed on some basic ideas regarding spirituality and mysticism in Islam. That's where the "I'm not really the intended audience" realization has to kick in and get me to get past it without losing/wasting any of the story's momentum.

Morality plays are another thing that often make me cringe. They're so hard to pull off with any subtlety. When they involve faith (and particularly your readers' chosen faith), the degree of difficulty is increased. And here's why I felt the need to write about this book (however ineloquently) tonight and felt like a dumb ass for having waited this long to get around to reading it.

I wept.

I wept at the same moment that tears streamed down Ali Jibreel's face.

I wept at the minimalist (yet direct) way that a talented muslima articulated a wish that so many a believer has had.

I wept as I had, in no small measure, my faith renewed. Inshallah, I'm not the only one.

It was then that I realized that maybe I was more this book's audience than I thought.

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