Tuesday, November 26, 2019

"A Pure Heart"

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 novels are In the Language of Miracles and the recently released A Pure Heart.

She applied the Page 69 Test to A Pure Heart and reported the following:
From page 69:
The next morning, Gameela snuck out of the apartment before anyone woke up—an easy feat in a family that slept past ten on weekends. She needed to walk the Cairo streets at the time she loved them most: early on a Friday morning in October, when the summer’s heat had finally subsided, replaced by a crisp breeze just cool enough to sting her nose, when the sprawling city was mostly still sleeping. Stepping out of the apartment building and onto the street and, crossing it, reaching the promenade that bordered the Nile, Gameela felt refreshingly clean, as if she had just stepped out of the sea and under the shade of an umbrella, like she loved to do when they used to vacation in Mersa Matruh years ago. She walked slowly down Saraya El-Gezira Street, occasionally glancing at the Nile below. Watching a boat float down the river, Gameela took a deep breath in and waited for that familiar sensation to fill her, the one that she got whenever she, as a child, strolled by the Nile with her father—the feeling of blissful belonging, an anchored identification with all that surrounded her: not only the running water, but also the Cairo dust that rendered everything a dull shade of gray, the suffocating heat that often prevented her from pursuing this same walk, the chaos of the streets crowded with peddlers and taxicabs and donkey-drawn carts and Mercedeses all maneuvering around each other with skill that decades of coexistence bred.

She could not believe how easily Fayrouz was giving all of this up, how easily she was leaping into a marriage that would inevitably take her away from her country.

She could not believe how easily Fayrouz was giving her family up.
This page is certainly representative of one of A Pure Heart’s main themes: the theme of home, of how attached we get to the physical places we inhabit, and of how some people can transplant themselves through immigration while others can’t. The novel tells the story of two sisters who fall on opposite sides of that spectrum: Gameela, a young woman with a deep sense of national and religious belonging, and Rose, whose name was Fayrouz before she changed it, and who marries an American and immigrates to the United States, a move that damages her relationship with her sister in ways she spends the entire novel trying to unravel.

What this page specifically touches on, though, is how much place affects our sense of belonging. Gameela’s description of her surroundings shows an attachment to them that is so essential to her identity that she cannot understand her sister’s choices outside of the parameters of place: immigration is an uprooting, a tearing away from a physical home and from the family we leave behind there, and for Gameela, this is unthinkable and inexplicable. This section stands in dialogue with several other sections from Rose’s point of view, where we get to see how she builds her own relationship with the new places she calls home, and how she views the places she left behind when she immigrated. Together, these parts pose some of the novel’s central questions: How much of our identity is tied to our home and our country of birth? And what happens when immigration forces us to redefine home?
Visit Rajia Hassib's website.

The Page 69 Test: In the Language of Miracles.

Writers Read: Rajia Hassib.

--Marshal Zeringue