Wednesday, September 9, 2015

"In the Language of Miracles"

Rajia Hassib was born and raised in Egypt and moved to the United States when she was twenty-three. She holds an MA in creative writing from Marshall University and her short fiction has appeared in Upstreet, Steam Ticket, and Border Crossing magazines. She lives in West Virginia with her husband and two children.

Hassib applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, In the Language of Miracles, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“They’re my initials. Ka is also the ancient Egyptian name for the soul. My parents are from Egypt, originally.” He glanced sideways to see her reaction. His eyes met hers, and she smiled.

“Cool,” she said.

They walked across the park and waited for the traffic light to turn red before crossing, heading east on Fourth Street among a flow of pedestrians. He had not truly answered her question, yet she did not press on—and because she did not, he added, “The K is for Khaled.”

“Khaled. That’s nice. I don’t think I’ve met a Khaled before.”

He looked straight at her, scrutinizing her smile, her half-curious, half-friendly gaze. No judgment, none of the caution the mention of his name might have evoked. He would not tell her his last name, even though he knew the absurdity of fearing that she, living in New York, would recognize his brother’s name in his. But he had told her his first name, and that was all that mattered. That was enough.
In the Language of Miracles is told from the points of view of three different characters, so I was happily surprised to see that page 69 happened to fall on a chapter told by Khaled, the 17-year old central narrator. One of the many struggles Khaled faces throughout the novel deals with identity: how to come to terms with his Egyptian heritage while staying true to his American self; how to find acceptance as a Muslim in a society that has become increasingly hostile to Muslims in general and, due to a crime his brother has committed, to his family in particular.

On page 69, those questions are addressed directly. This scene depicts the first meeting between Khaled and a girl he has had a crush on for some time and who, because they had met online, only knows him by his initials. When she finally asks what his initials stand for, Khaled debates whether or not he should make up a new, less foreign-sounding name for himself, fearing that the sound of his decidedly Arabic name would scare her away. Eventually, he chooses to stick to the truth, revealing his true name despite having planned to do otherwise. I find this particular exchange quite endearing: Khaled is terrified of alienating her, and his paranoia about being recognized and immediately ostracized is painfully apparent. The exchange also marks the first time Khaled finds acceptance separate from his family’s troubling history and yet without having to sacrifice his Egyptian heritage, and that, I think, makes page 69 a particularly interesting point in the novel.
Visit Rajia Hassib's website.

Writers Read: Rajia Hassib.

--Marshal Zeringue