Apr 08, 10
Read on April 04, 2010
"If you can't be beautiful you should at least be good. People will appreciate that."
The protagonist Jameela embodies goodness. It is hard not to fall in love with her. She is patient, long suffering and sweet. Her attempts at being "good" when faced with impossible life situations left me wanting to rescue her from all the horrors dealt her throughout the story. Yet, I was left worried about the ultimate message this story sends the reader.
It's not that I am against "goodness" per se. But, how often are women sold these as their only two options in life (beauty & goodness)? Every time Jameela experiences another blow she tells her self, "Don't get angry. Don't get angry. Don't get angry." In the end, she devotes herself to being "good" through unquestioning obedience, working hard and piety. Once again, all great characteristics to embody. But, it appears that these characteristics are what in turn save her rather than her tenacity, intelligence and resilience.
Each time Jameela re-devotes herself to being good, a door of opportunity is opened. I fear this is the wrong message to send. While it is good to hold on to the traits Jameela demonstrates, rarely do these traits alone solve problems. While Jameela eventually gets to a place where she pushes back, it wasn't satisfying to me. It just felt too clean. I would have appreciated it if the author used the character to demonstrate some of the emotional problems associated with the travesties she faces. The protagonist ends up a romantic view of the good woman who survives difficulty. In my classroom with refugees, I witness first hand the long term, devastating effects of war, poverty and displacement have on a person. It is not as clean and romantic as the book would have the reader see.
It is our intolerance, anger and indignation that moves people to challenge institutions that perpetuate suffering. It is the act of "acting out" that creates important change. Where would we be if we all quietly went along with our suffering? We cannot "good" our way out of slavery, racial segregation, domestic abuse and other such social/personal problems. Learning how to push back, question, and demand are as equally important as being good and beautiful, if not more so.
A neatly written story. However, I would want a parent to read this story with their child to discuss some of the deeper implications of Jameela's character. I would not want a child to leave this story believing that the answer to injustice, pain and loss is "goodness".