The Broken Half by Sahar Abdulaziz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Still reeling from the onslaught of pages, I am not sure I can adequately express how profoundly this book has changed me, leveled me to the ground, dropped a building on top of me, throttled me through the jarring effects of an 8.0 earthquake (which I have personally experienced), or otherwise left me an inarticulate glob of human numbed by the harrowing story of Zahar Evans and what she suffered at the menacing hands of her husband Jamal. In one aspect, this is the story of a woman trapped in a difficult situation with no apparent means of escape. Yet, despite this obstacle, Abdulaziz spared no amount of obstacles firmly lobbed at Zahar at a dizzying and often breakneck speed, deftly written in an account that seemed to fly by as if the reader were watching CNN live, or some other streaming news account happening right now.
The setting is modern, and easily incorporated into the background as the story unfolds. Within this story a secondary, yet equally important layer of story paralleled the main plot. A moderate Muslim community, the masjid, the Imam, the brothers and sisters living out their faith, demonstrating their customs, and in a way that the reader can approach even if he or she has zero knowledge of the Muslim culture or religion. I found this aspect of the story fascinating and illuminating as at times characters experience the intolerance and bigotry our culture so easily assumes in the face of anything it doesn't understand. This made me want to read the book all the more.
The characters are well developed and fully realized. Of particular interest, I most loved the marriage of Tamim and Hawadah. Hawadah is a secret best friend of Zahar, and I always delighted in those parts of the story where they were included. Still, I must say that Abdulaziz gave every character a challenge to face, and spared no amount of troubles to sprinkle by the bucket full at nearly every character, beloved or not. I am not one who weeps easily or often. Very rarely, in fact. However, I found myself openly and unashamedly weeping at several times in this book.
Finally, this book addresses the issue of domestic violence in the context of a married couple, and many of the related aspects including the assumption of male supremacy over women, those who are religious, and those who live a life in reverence. Bias, bigotry, prejudice, cultural insensitivity, vengeance, retribution, retaliation, revenge, generational curses, and so on.
This is a powerful story, that may not allow you to do anything else until you sit down and read it cover to cover in one sitting. But it is one that will stay with you long after you've finished, and will call out to you to be pondered and shared. Highly recommended. A must read.
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