Heron Books £7.99. Order at a discount (with free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Willow Trees Don't Weep by Fadia Faqir - book review: 'A search for meaning that ends up going nowhere'
Tuesday 22 April 2014
Willow Trees Don't Weep is the story of a young woman's journey to find her father Omar. Najwa has not seen or heard from him since he walked out on her and her mother when she was three, yet she thinks of him daily; his abandonment has undermined her sense of self and she must find him to discover her place in the world.
So when her mother dies, Najwa packs her grandmother off to Mecca, leaves the family home in Jordan and embarks on a quest to find her father that takes her via Afghanistan to England. Despite finding herself in a series of unnerving situations, the unworldly Najwa is determined not to give up until she's found what's happened to Omar and why he left them.
Through Najwa, author Fadia Faqir explores the notion of otherness, of what it is like to be an outsider. Najwa has been raised in a secular household, yet all the other children she grew up with were Muslims ("I stood out as if I had a birth defect with my unruly hair, western clothes and uncovered legs"). She is a single woman living in a household without men in a patriarchal society and has to negotiate gender-specific rules and unwanted sexual attention. When she arrives in Afghanistan and England she becomes a cultural outsider, too; in the latter, she is seen as a Muslim, and by implication, a terrorist.
This is a dramatic premise full of potential and the book's ambition is admirable, but Faqir fails to capitalise. Najwa's responses to situations she finds herself are sometimes glib and insubstantial. Occasionally, she acts in ways that seem out of character (running her finger along the lips of a freedom fighter she has just met, for instance), which undermines her authenticity. In other places, her characterisation is rammed home: Najwa often imagines her dead mother's approval of her secular behaviour, which is fine, except it becomes irritatingly repetitive. There are moments, too, when the dialogue is stilted and unreal.
Faqir's strongest writing is evident in Omar's first-person narrative, which she threads throughout Najwa's. A touching story of loyalty emerges.
The differences between Omar's version of events and his motivation for the life choices he has made, and those imagined by Najwa, drive the story along as, inexorably, their two narratives converge to deliver the book's conclusion.
Given this is where the reader has been heading towards since page one, it should be quite a climax. In reality, it's underwhelming.
TV reviewBroadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair
Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere
TVThe Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
- 2 The confessions of men who ordered mail-order brides
- 3 UK weather: Britain braced for snow as arctic air mass moves in
- 4 Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
- 5 'Isis' schoolgirls: Missing British teenager tweets picture of her Syrian takeaway
Poldark, series 1 finale, review: How a costume drama became a Sunday night swoon-fest
Al Pacino admits he was nearly fired from The Godfather and it's still his most 'difficult role'
Warner Music owner Len Blavatnik tops Sunday Times Rich List
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 3, review: Sansa and manhood-lopping torturer Ramsay Bolton - really?
The day I starred in Only Fools and Horses
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove