Written by Nadirah Angail | Published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform | Reviewed by Fatima Bheekoo-Shah
Before reading ‘What We Learned Along the Way’, I had not heard about the author Nadirah Angail or her first novel. I subsequently went online and read a short autobiography on the Kansas City based author where she emphasised that she was inextricably connected to the feminine experience and feels obligated to focus her energy on that. With that in mind and without reading anything else about this book I dived in. Immediately you are drawn into the lives of four American Muslim best friends in their early twenties and journeying into womanhood. We get a window seat on a sometimes tumultuous ride of the various challenges and emotional upheavals these woman are facing in their lives.
Mariam comes across as the matriarch figure of the group and as a woman who craves change. She has “sworn off poverty” and her career is taking off in strides. She also knows that it’s just a matter of time before her long-term boyfriend, Rashaad, will marry her. Malikah has self-esteem issues with her body, but is still a take-it-as-it-comes kind of girl. She is beautiful and lives in the shadow of her younger sister who seems to have it all. Malikah is still at university with no real direction of where she wants to go in her studies. Under constant critical judgment from her mother, Malikah thinks that perhaps her validation in life is to find the right man and marry him. Aliyah is confident and brings a sense of energy to the book. She does not care what anyone thinks of her. She works as a waitress and is outgoing, bubbly and vivacious around men. She also carries the pain of losing her mum to cancer four years ago. Jaime has strict overbearing parents who watch her every move and try to shield her from bad influences. She finally breaks free by standing up for herself and finds herself in a situation that she never thought she would have to face.
This book carries along at a good pace and we learn that all is not what it seems among the friends. We follow the characters sometimes complex lives and relationships with various people they meet along the way. We learn that their lives are as real as our own lives. We live through heartache, pain, joy, redemption, forgiveness, love, friendship and identity building with the characters. Their “Muslimness” is central to who they are and to them finding themselves. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Nadirah does an excellent job of changing our perceptions about the “typical” Muslim woman. Most people think Muslim women are oppressed; that’s because they have not met these four young ladies who are strong-willed, independent and probably everything most people think Muslim women are not. Even if you did not identify with the faith, you would definitely connect to the humanity of the characters. Nadirah does not disappoint in setting forth the feminine experience. She gives a voice to issues we face as women. She has an easy flowing and conversationalist style of writing, making for an easy read. Most women would find themselves relating to at least one character in the book or find a little a bit about themselves in all the characters. I highly recommend it to all who love a good story but also want a healthy dose of reality added in.
Aside from writing, Nadirah has a master’s degree from Drexel in Marriage and Family Therapy. She has also written On All the Things That Make Me Beautiful: Short Inspirational Essays on Life, Love & Self. Her book What We Learned Along the Way is available in print or digital on Amazon.com and from her website nadirahangail.com.
Fatima Bheekoo Shah is a wife, mother food blogger, and breast-feeding activist. She lives in the city of Gold, Johannesburg and is studying magazine journalism and finally answering her calling, to become a writer.