An Unlasting Home by Mai Al-Nakib
Published by Mariner Books
Publication date: April 12, 2022
Genres: Book Clubs, Debut, Fiction, Cultural, Literary
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When Sara’s mother was 8 months pregnant, she lied to the airlines and flew from Missouri back to Kuwait, determined that her daughter be born in the country of her ancestors. This is just the first of many miles and countries crossed by the indomitable women in Mai Al-Nakib’s sweeping novel, An Unlasting Home. A fitting title for a book populated by women whose lives span Lebanon, India, Iraq, Turkey, and Kuwait, moving from place to place but never feeling home.
Sara is in her 40s now and has lived in Kuwait for the past 11 years. A philosophy professor, she’s just been informed that she’s fired and will be prosecuted for blasphemy for remarks made during a lecture. It’s 2013 and the Kuwaiti parliament has just passed a law punishing blasphemy with execution.
The tension of Sara’s situation is the novel’s core, as she’s caught in the middle of a highly politicized issue, but as she sits and waits, An Unlasting Home spins out and back to her mother and her grandmothers. Each woman is from a different country with a very different upbringing, but had a drive to succeed and the brains to do so. Fate and family ultimately derailed each of them. They accede to the traditional role of wife, daughter, and mother, leaving behind personal goals. Only Sara is able to fulfill her professional dreams. For her grandmothers, Yasmine and Lulwa, love and war meant being uprooting to new countries with new languages and customs; leaving behind family and personal goals. Her mother, Noura goes the furthest when her husband gets a job in America, allowing her to complete a degree, but then he wants to return to Kuwait to help rebuild it after the Gulf War.
Al-Nakib goes even further with the importance of women in Sara’s life by including Maria, an Indian woman, hired by Noura as a nursemaid. Despite her paid position she is a part of the family, having known Sara her entire life. She’s a poignant reminder of the women displaced by being forced to work abroad in an effort to support the children they leave behind.
Their stories are compelling and give a vivid picture of the Middle East in the 20th century, especially Kuwait, a modern, forward-thinking seafaring country in the 70s, but overtaken by fundamentalists after the Gulf War in 1990. This is just one aspect of the many extraordinary and telling details to An Unlasting Home. The novel provides uniquely compelling insight into not just the lives of Muslim women, but of the geopolitical forces in the Middle East, including those behind 9/11. The diaspora of people forced from their ancestral homes due to circumstances beyond their control is heart wrenching.
The miles spanned necessitate family trees at the book’s beginning, but Al-Nakib is such a careful, thoughtful writer that despite its breadth of time and place, An Unlasting Home reads like opening a trunk and carefully unwrapping layers and layers of lives, each gently preserved and presented.
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