Author Hend Hegazi is an Egyptian-American Muslim writer who lives in Alexandria, Egypt with her husband and four children. Behind Picket Fences, is Hend Hegazi’s second novel after her debut novel, Normal Calm tackled the difficult topic of rape within a Muslim family.
Behind Picket Fences is an adult drama which delves into the lives of four families who live on the same street in an idyllic leafy suburb. Sidra and Farris are wealthy and also have the biggest house, but the façade of wealth buries these two people struggling with infertility issues. Mariam and Morgan live in a modest home on the street and the burning issue of finances makes the cracks in their marriage deepen. Summer and Porter are the young, vibrant and carefree couple. Summer is an artist and sometimes she struggles with her profession because she feels that Porter would like her to find a “real” job. May and Hasan have been married for a number of years, and their love for each only deepens as the years go by. It’s obvious that Hasan only has eyes for May and he constantly dotes on her, but then they are struck by a deeply personal tragedy which neither is sure they will recover from.
Behind Picket Fences puts a microscope on the human dynamics of relationships. The picket fences might as well be walls which hide the stories of struggle, triumph, trials and trust among the main characters. I found the fact that the couples were neighbours was an interesting and effective concept. The novel is well paced and you are delicately shown the personal unrest the couples are facing. Even though the stories were not entwined they all related to each other in a unique way. I was constantly struck by the thought throughout this book that the grass is not always greener on the other side. Marriage and relationships are complex and sometimes even though the answers to our complexities are easy, our choices are what can make or break the relationship. We don’t always live with the answers but we all have to live with the choices we make. Hend did a stunning job with this novel. Whereas most novels focus on one protagonist we are focusing on eight people and I never felt Hend skimped on any one of the characters. I found the characters interesting and complex.
There was tremendous character growth from the beginning of the novel to who the characters were at the end. Another theme explored was questions of taking responsibility for our actions especially in the aftermath of these upheavals. Sometimes it raised more questions than answers and most often I was left disillusioned by it all. But I think she painted a realistic picture of what is a common practice today.
I am not sure who says it, but there is a line in the book, which really stands out for me, “I mean maybe it’s space that we think we need that leads us to loneliness. Maybe we are meant to live in less space…shared space.” This epitomizes everything a real marriage should be.
Hend has also shown tremendous growth as a writer with this novel. I did find the beginning to be awkward like she was trying to find her way just as the couples were, but towards the middle and end Hend seemed to ease into it and her writing voice really shone through. Also, as with her previous novel, Hend is not trying to push Islam onto the reader. She presents the religion of Islam in a somewhat casual way that makes the reader feel curious about the connection to God we see in the lives of the characters, who are content with the life they’ve been dealt. While religion was the center point for some of the characters it wasn’t at all what this novel was about.
I can’t recall when I wrote my first book review for SISTERS, it seems so long ago. I remember clearly it was a Friday afternoon and it was the first time I was introduced to Islamic fiction. I was so excited that this whole new concept had opened up to me. If I think back to then and now, how this genre has grown, its just mind blowing. Talented writers who I believe can hold their own against any famous writer in the publishing world are telling our stories with such clarity. Hend has shown that a complex novel about relationships can be written, and shows that we as Muslims are struggling with the same issues as everyone else. I look forward to reading more of her work in the future. In the meantime, read this book!
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Hend Hegazi’s debut novel, Normal Calm, tackles the fallout one sister and her family experiences after she is raped.
Hend Hegazi was born and raised in Attleboro, Massachusetts. She graduated from Smith College in 2000, majoring in biology and minoring in religion. In 2002 she moved to Egypt to be with her husband. Hend is a stay at home mother of four and finds that writing helps in the struggle to keep her sanity. She can be found at www.hendhegazi.com. Her novel is available on Amazon.
Fatima Bheekoo Shah is a wife, mother, food blogger, foodie and breastfeeding activist, finally answering her calling to be a writer.