I am consistently working on broadening my reading. As an avid book reader, I have an ever-growing list of titles outside my norm that I have dedicated 2021 to tackle. My latest read by Syed M. Masood captivated my interest, traveled the world, and spanned decades. Masood grew up in Karachi, Pakistan and currently lives in Sacramento, California. He is a world traveler and his life experiences are reflected in his book, The Bad Muslim Discount.
The Bad Muslim Discount by Syed M. Masood follows two families across decades. From Pakistan and Iraq in the 1990s all the way to San Francisco in 2016, this novel highlights the lives of two Muslim families and their journey to the United States.
1995: Anvar Faris is growing up in Karachi, Pakistan. As the youngest son, Anvar is constantly measured against his older brother. As a result, Anvar is rebellious, restless, and constantly being scolded by his mother for his words. Closest to his grandmother, Anvar spends time with her learning how to play chess and trying to beat her. At this same time, fundamentalists in the government increasingly become louder and more forceful. Religious zealots knock on doors and the streets are more dangerous. With Islam on the rise more and more, Anvar’s family is getting worried. His father decides to move the family to California to start over. Not everyone in the family is happy with the move, but it happens nonetheless. Anvar may not have fit in 100% in Karachi, but he soon finds out that he doesn’t fit in in California. So begins Anvar’s journey to carve out a place for himself where he can be happy.
While Anvar is struggling to find himself, Safwa has problems of her own. Thousands of miles away in Baghdad, Safwa is also struggling. Her family has been rocked by tragedy. Her grief-stricken father wants Safwa to follow his conservative values, something of which she is not a fan. With nothing left to hold them at home, the two begin a dangerous trip to America that could not be more different than Anvar’s.
While Anvar and Safwa’s paths to America differ, at the core they do share similarities. Once both have made it to California, their lives begin to bring them closer together. The closer their worlds become, the more their fates and the fates of those around them intertwine. The decisions both Anvar and Safwa make set off a series of events that will destroy their community and alter their lives forever.
No, Three Cups of Tea is not a new book — it was published in 2006 – but I just got around to reading it. Many of you may already be familiar with this book by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin — it’s subtitle is “One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations. ”
Mortenson, barely alive after failing to summit K-2 in 1993, wanders lost and alone into a remote area of Pakistan, and is cared by the villagers there for seven weeks. In gratitude, he promises to return to build a school for the children who’ve been learning their lessons by scratching in the dirt. Raising the funds proves challenging, but after many setbacks, he not only keeps his promise — he eventually builds more than 50 schools throughout rural Pakistan and Afghanistan.
As his mission continues after 9/11, he is met with death threats, a kidnapping, and many cultural challenges in dangerous Taliban territory. Still, the overall lesson one takes away from this book is that one person really can change the world.
What about the title? Well, it’s from an old Baltistan proverb. “The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time, you are an honored guest. The third time, you become family.” I can’t help but wonder how much better our world would be if we all could share just three cups of tea.
Many readers are trying to get context for what’s going on in Jerusalem and Palestine. Novels can give social and cultural insight into ancient (and modern) disputes beyond the strife of war and conflict.
The Walls of Jericho by Jon Land
This is a thriller that proves that the stereotypical “strife in the Middle East” can be woven into highly entertaining crime fiction. The first in the series about a pair of detectives (one Israeli and one Palestinian American) who are assigned to work together to catch a serial killer. Danielle Barnea is an Israel Security Agency officer, and works with Ben Kamal to unravel the plot that may threaten the Arab-Israeli peace process.
The Samaritan’s Secret by Matt Beynon Rees
Rees keeps the “military maneuvers in the background and [focusses] on ordinary people struggling to live ordinary lives,” according to the New York Times. The hero is a Palestinian teacher, who helps with the investigation of the theft of a priceless scroll.
Damascus Gate by Robert Stone
This is a mystery that “transcends its genre” and is a “novel of place, securely grounded in the stones of Jerusalem.” Religious radicals (Christian and Jewish) plan to blow up Mosques in Jerusalem, for their own convoluted reasons. Stone ‘s “meditation on belief”….and “suspense all come together is a stunning finale that satisfies on all levels.” Booklist
Martyr’s Crossing by Amy Wilentz
An incident at a Jerusalem checkpoint sparks riots and the soldier and young Palestinian mother are reluctantly pulled into the ensuing chaos. The author is the Jerusalem correspondent for the New Yorker and is “masterful at turning the Israeli/Palestinian predicament like a prism to expose multifaceted viewpoints, leaving the reader with insight into the politics and an overwhelming empathetic vision of the human pain that is part of daily living in this region of the world,” according to Booklist.