The Beauty of Your Face by Safar Mustafah is a compelling and authentic novel that not only explores the complex struggles of a culturally conflicted daughter of Palestinian immigrants, but also touches on universal themes such as identity, loss and the pain of a middle child rejected by her mentally fragile mother.
The book follows dual storylines of Afaf , principal of a Muslim school for girls just outside Chicago, opening with the shocking arrival of a xenophobic shooter who kills girls at random. The eventual tense standoff between Afaf and the shooter frames the more in-depth story of her earlier life leading to this point.
A bright, intelligent teenager, Afaf negotiates the difficulties of life as the daughter of secularized parents in a town where she faces casual but cruel racism on a daily basis. When a tragic loss causes major family upheaval, she struggles to find a place to belong when she’s spurned by all her classmates and even her own mother who seems to hate her. She becomes rebellious, experimenting with casual sex and growing to hate herself in the process. When the incidents of 9-11 occur, the racial slurs intensify and her life becomes close to unbearable.
Afaf eventually follows in her beloved father’s steps as he becomes a “born again” Muslim and she finally finds a place and people that welcome her. The author, however, avoids cliché and sentimentality by portraying the complexity of a family divided by their level of faith. In other words, religion is not presented as a magic “cure” for the problems of this family.
The story builds to an inevitable climax when Afaf confronts the shooter. The author uses a classic suspense technique and makes us wait until the end to find out the outcome, a good choice because by this time the reader is heavily invested in the pitfalls and victories of Afaf's life.
This was a well written book that provides a window on the struggles of second generation immigrants in a country that often misjudges and even fears them. Afaf is a compelling and sympathetic character whose experiences prove that despite the colour of our skin or our differences in religion we are all still striving for love, happiness, acceptance and a place to call home.
Thanks to Legend Press for sending me a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Check out the other stops on the blog tour to see what others have said about the book.