A powerful novel about two Egyptian sisters--their divergent fates and the secrets of one family
Sisters Rose and Gameela Gubran could not have been more different. Rose, an Egyptologist, married an American journalist and immigrated to New York City, where she works in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gameela, a devout Muslim since her teenage years, stayed in Cairo. During the aftermath of Egypt's revolution, Gameela is killed in a suicide bombing. When Rose returns to Egypt after the bombing, she sifts through the artifacts Gameela left behind, desperate to understand how her sister came to die, and who she truly was. Soon, Rose realizes that Gameela has left many questions unanswered. Why had she quit her job just a few months before her death and not told her family? Who was she romantically involved with? And how did the religious Gameela manage to keep so many secrets?
Rich in depth and feeling, A Pure Heart is a brilliant portrait of two Muslim women in the twenty-first century, and the decisions they make in work and love that determine their destinies. As Rose is struggling to reconcile her identities as an Egyptian and as a new American, she investigates Gameela's devotion to her religion and her country. The more Rose uncovers about her sister's life, the more she must reconcile their two fates, their inextricable bond as sisters, and who should and should not be held responsible for Gameela's death. Rajia Hassib's A Pure Heart is a stirring and deeply textured novel that asks what it means to forgive, and considers how faith, family, and love can unite and divide us.
About the Author
Rajia Hassib was born and raised in Egypt and moved to the United States when she was twenty-three. Her first novel, In the Language of Miracles, was a New York Times Editors' Choice and received an honorable mention from the Arab American Book Award. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Marshall University, and she has written for The New York Times Book Review and The New Yorker online. She lives in West Virginia with her husband and two children.
Praise for A Pure Heart
“A multifaceted look at the complicated legacies of identity, religion, and politics in Egypt after the Arab Spring emerges. Even the story of the suicide bomber is given careful consideration in this enlightening, heartrending novel.” –Booklist (starred review)
"[A Pure Heart] fluidly explores how even seismic historical events can mix with everyday emotions such as sibling rivalry and insecurity to concoct a potent brew. . . . A devastating definition of the new normal in which revolution does not always deliver real power to institute change." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"A captivating novel about family, love, and home. Hassib masterfully excavates the secret loyalties that drive women to make fateful choices and, in so doing, explores important themes of guilt and responsibility, shame and forgiveness." —Laila Lalami, author of Pulitzer Prize finalist The Moor's Account
"Full of intelligent reflections about exile, this moving novel about two Egyptian sisters—one in New York, the other in Cairo—carefully dramatizes the curdling of individual dreams in the aftermath of the Arab Spring." —Karan Mahajan, author of National Book Award finalist The Association of Small Bombs
"A stunner of a book. Weaving through the lives of two sisters split by destiny, Hassib's latest novel is a story of excavation: of countries and people. With the Egyptian revolution as backdrop, Hassib masterfully explores the loyalties, geographies and histories that can both partition and bind family." —Hala Alyan, author of Dayton Literary Peace Prize and Arab American Book Award winner Salt Houses
"It would be unjust to call Hassib's A Pure Heart anything but heartbreaking and beautiful. Nearly every character is trapped between political, religious, and geographic extremes, trying to figure out who they are and what they love. These goals are always in sight, but, for some, ever beyond reach." —Ian Bassingthwaighte, author of Live from Cairo
"Rajia Hassib's latest novel is a lyrical, heartfelt reflection on the Egyptian revolution as well as on the painful secrets that separate two sisters." —Susan Muaddi Darraj, author of Arab American Book Award winner A Curious Land
Praise for In the Language of Miracles:
"Assured and beautifully crafted. . . . Hassib is a natural, graceful writer with a keen eye for cultural difference. . . . [She] handles the anatomy of grief with great delicacy. . . . In the Language of Miracles should find a large and eager readership. For the beauty of the writing alone, Hassib deserves it." —Monica Ali, The New York Times Book Review
"Impressive. . . . From [Hassib's] first page to her denouement we can be gripped and moved by a study of the fault-lines within an immigrant family." —The National
"Hassib writes with an authority uncommon in debut writers; in this important book, she weaves the beauty of Arabic culture with the harsh realities of modern American life with exceptional insight and poetic ease." —Bustle.com
"[A] sensitive, finely wrought debut. . . . Sharply observant of immigrants' intricate relationships to their adopted homelands, this exciting novel announces the arrival of a psychologically and socially astute new writer." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"[A] stellar debut. . . . Thoughtfully examining the role of religion and prayer, parents and grandparents, this rich novel offers complex characters, beautiful writing, and astute observations about the similarities and differences between the Egyptian and American outlooks on life. It would be difficult to find a better book for any discussion group; highly recommended." —Library Journal(starred review)
"Spoken words are all powerful in Rajia Hassib's masterful book about thought vs. action. Whether the characters are explaining, questioning, or stating their deepest beliefs, though, conversation never creates anything; it's the human response to the life that subsumes us, whether we're active or passive. In the face of tragedy, and even great happiness, abstractions fall away; the personal and particular endure. It's a very moving book." —Ann Beattie
"Smart, nuanced and culturally dazzling, In the Language of Miracles is a heartrending story of Egyptians and Americans, of two families whose lives are intertwined and then unraveled by fate. Hassib's writing has an intoxicating quality that made this a page-turner, but by the end, her beautiful story surpasses its characters in its unflinching investigation of tragedy, mental illness, and healing across two cultures in conflict." —Zoë Ferraris, author of Finding Nouf and City of Veils
"Rajia Hassib's In the Language of Miracles is a tautly told story of one family's grief and the quiet but daunting burden of survivorship. She has deftly captured their individual struggles as they swim through the deep waters of loss and blame. We turn page after page and hope, as all bereaved do, that there's a chance for healing." —Nadia Hashimi, author of When the Moon Is Low and The Pearl That Broke Its Shell
"Rajia Hassib's timely novel is a gripping, hold-your-breath exposé about being Muslim in post-9/11 America where the heinous act of one can demonize all. But it's also a universal, multi-generational, immigrant tale. The old-world, Egyptian grandmother's bungled English, her prayers and incense, rub against her American-born, tech-savvy grandchildren's bungled Arabic and Western music. It's an intelligent, beautifully rendered reminder that no matter our ethnicity or creed, we all long for acceptance and a place to call home." —Marie Manilla, author of The Patron Saint of Ugly
"Rajia Hassib has a finger on the pulse of two languages and two cultures. She deftly spins an honest tale of a family reeling in the wake of tragedy, all the while exploring the subtle complexities embedded in communication, culture, and human relationships." —Laila Halaby, author of Once in a Promised Land