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Review: When We Were Sisters

3/5 stars

Asghar is a poet, and this book reflects that, as it is written in short bursts of lyrical prose. Definitely not a book to listen to. The reader needs to be able to see the pages.

Three young Muslim-American girls are orphaned when their father is killed. Noreen, the eldest, tries to take on the role of sister-mother; Aisha, the middle child, argues with everyone but has a deep sense of the importance of family; and Kausar, the youngest, tries to keep up, while also exploring her understanding of her own gender. The only relative willing to take them in is an swindler uncle who uses them to get at the money left by their father. He secures an apartment, and places the three girls in one room, while renting out the other rooms. He checks on them only occasionally, giving money for food and clothes periodically, so the girls must learn to rely solely on each other and the kindness of neighbors.

The book explores grief, the meaning of sisterhood, and the conflict between American culture and their Pakistani roots. It is a coming-of-age story times three, as each tries to develop a sense of self in the wreckage of their lives, while also remaining connected to the only family they know - each other.

It's lovely and unflinching, but felt a little fragmented because of the way it is written, and I found myself skipping ahead often to get to a moment of action. I think if I'd gone into it prepared for more of a series of connected poems, I would have appreciated that aspect a bit more. I definitely recommend it for anyone who likes poetry or poetic prose.


UP NEXT: We Are Not Like Them, by Christine Pride & Jo Piazza

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