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Infinite Country by Patricia Engel | Thoughts

   Published : 2021   ||    Format : print   ||    Location : Colombia ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆   What was it about the country that kept everyone hostage to its fantasy? The previous month, on its own soil, an American man went to his job at a plant and gunned down fourteen coworkers, and last spring alone there were four different school shootings. A nation at war with itself, yet people still spoke of it as some kind of paradise.. Thoughts : Infinite Country follows two characters - young Talia, who at the beginning of this book, escapes a girl’s reform school in North Colombia so that she can make her previously booked flight to the US. Before she can do that, she needs to travel many miles to reach her father and get her ticket to the rest of her family. As we follow Talia’s treacherous journey south, we learn about how she ended up in the reform school in the first place and why half her family resides in the US. Infinite Country tells the story of her family through the other protagonist, El

The Bad Muslim Discount by Syed M. Masood | Thoughts

 Published in: 2021   ||   Format: ebook   ||   Location: Pakistan, Iraq, US

One line review: War does different things to different people - some escape without so much as a scratch while others carry with them lifelong scars.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆


My father had once given me the "birds and the bees" talk. It had been brief. He'd asked me if I was studying biology in school. "I am, Dad." "All of it?" "Yes?" He'd nodded, apparently satisfied that his work in this regard was done.


Anvar's father decides in 1995 that he has had enough of the fundamentalist fever gripping his country and moves his family to the US. Not everyone in his family were in favor though. While Anvar and his father thrive in their new home, his mother and his brother remain extremely devout and often critical of those who weren't like them. Still Anvar and his family lead a relatively comfortable life; on the other part of the world, Safwa and her family are trying and failing to survive in war-torn Baghdad. She and her father eventually make it to the US but not before accumulating heavy losses that forever alter their lives. When her path crosses with Anvar's, they each have something to learn from the other while also battling the bonds that hold them back. 

I know my summary is extremely vague but there's so much about this book I cannot give away. Before I go into that, I will say that the cover of this book does not do it justice. I was expecting a hilarious rom-com. Yes, half the book is funny but the other half will make you weep and hold your loved ones close. There is romance but it is not even front and center of the story. It is so far from a boy-meets-girl as that cover may lead you to believe.

The Bad Muslim Discount alternates between Anvar and Azza's POV. Although the novel is entirely in third person, the two perspectives also reflect their very different personalities and experiences very well. Anvar jokes a lot, sometimes at other people's expense. As a result, he is often in situations that he needs to dig himself out of. Safwa, on the other hand, has seen so much tragedy that I often had to put aside the book at the end of her chapters. The kind of decisions she had to make even before she hit the double-digit age made me cry for little kids everywhere who don't have anyone looking out for them - no child should ever have to make those decisions. You can feel the weight of that in her every action as she grows older. 

It will be hard to read, but I promise the book still pulled me in. In some ways, Anvar's sarcasm and humor makes it easier to stomach. 

The war is what leads both families to make certain decisions but you can see how it has barely touched one family and hardly left the other one alone. It is to the author's credit that this is portrayed very well. Through it all, I thought that the Muslim communities were represented well. There is so much about faith without it really being about faith. Who is a good Muslim? Does that even matter? Depends on who you ask. On the one hand, there is Anvar who is by his and others' definitions, a bad Muslim, and then there is his brother Aamir, the model Muslim. Along with parental doctrines of religion come theirs and societal expectations of what thou shalt and shalt not do. Both Anvar and Safwa struggle to fit in the molds designed for them, and it is in some ways their reluctance to follow the path laid out for them that brings them together and helps fight their demons. For Safwa, this is her father and for Anwar, his feelings for his old flame.

This is not to say that I loved it without a fault. I was disappointed in how the women in this book were portrayed. There is certainly a lot of sexism, which unfortunately is not unusual for either Iraq or Pakistan (or almost every country in the world, for that matter), so you need to know this going in and also realize that real women from many of these countries are often treated as property. However, the sexist attitudes (whether it is limiting women's freedom or glorifying their sex appeal) are kept unresolved and treated as matter-of-fact, and so I felt we lost an opportunity here to show how better attitudes could prevail. 

One thing that I enjoyed tremendously in this book is how it is structured like a checkers game. Anvar and his grandmother are huge fans and the chapters in the book are organized as an homage to the game. There's a whole section that reads like a fast paced game. All this made the geek in me extremely happy.

All in all, this wasn't perfect but it was good and I very much appreciated the fast pace and how there was never a boring moment in the story.

Have you read this book? If you have seen the cover before, what did you imagine this book to be about?