“I am Nur, daughter of Firdaus and Yusuf… I live where I was born, in Toronto, Canada, with my Turkish-Muslim mother.” These are the first words penned into Buraq, a young girl’s diary – and so begins a novel that is as gentle and beautiful as the butterflies that flutter across its cover and through its pages.
When Wings Expand is a story told through young Nur’s diary entries, telling us about her mother’s increasingly severe cancer. Nur’s voice is earnest and innocent, her thoughts occasionally juvenile and often surprisingly deep and reflective.
Mehded Maryam Sinclair does an incredible job of drawing us into Nur’s life through her journal entries. Though many of the chapters are short, the imagery and emotion in them make up for their brevity; if anything, it is a sign of the author’s eloquence that she is able to so poignantly evoke such sincere emotions with so few words. The butterfly motif that spans the book is skillfully interwoven through small drawings and religiously-inspired musings, without ever coming across as too overdone or heavy-handed.
I will admit that when I first picked up the book and started reading it, I was impatient and somewhat annoyed. I haven’t been a fan of the diary-entry technique of storytelling since I was a teenager myself, and I kept waiting for the story to take a more dramatic turn.
However, it didn’t take long for me to realise that the problem was not with the story, but with myself and the expectations I had before approaching it. Leaving it aside and picking it up again later with a different attitude, I was soon drawn into Nur’s chronicling of her life, emotions, and short but thoughtful spiritual reflections. Whereas I initially found her narrative voice to be childish, it grew on me and was in fact not all that childish – young, yes, and with a youthful outlook, but one that is wonderfully suited to younger readers. Even so, it is a testament to the author’s skill that we are able to detect Nur’s growth as a person through her words alone. By the time readers reach the end of the book, it truly feels as though we have watched her grow up and mature into a young woman of surprising wisdom.
When Wings Expand is the type of story that requires the reader to put aside expectations of action and adventure, and to appreciate a softer, more subtle narrative. After all, not everyone’s lives are raucous and dramatic; sometimes, the most beautiful tales are ones of quiet sorrows and private joys.
As critical as I am as a reader, I found myself unexpectedly enjoying the book far more than I would have ever thought. It is definitely the mark of a great writer to be able to draw in readers accustomed to different styles and genres, and leave them longing for more.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Zainab bint Younus is a voracious reader who has been devouring shelves full of books for as long as she can remember. When not distracted by her latest literary acquisition, she procrastinates on her novel and writes for SISTERS Magazine, OnIslam.net, AlJumuah Magazine, and blogs at http://www.thesalafifeminist.blogspot.com