Tag: Muslim

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson

Posted August 14, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Graphic Novel / 14 Comments

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow WilsonTitle: Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal (Goodreads)
Author: G. Willow Wilson
Artist: Adrian Alphona, Sara Pichelli
Published: Marvel Comics, 2014
Pages: 120
Genres: Graphic Novel
My Copy: eBook

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

The new series of Ms. Marvel brings about an exciting new direction for Marvel Comics. Kamala Khan is the fourth character to take on the name Ms. Marvel and for the first time ever, we see a Muslim headlining the pages. Co-created Sana Amanat (editor), G. Willow Wilson (writer), and Adrian Alphona (artist) the new Ms. Marvel was created out of the need for a strong Muslim superhero. However, this is not only a hero that deals with struggling with their superpowers but a minority struggling to fit in with the American culture.

The comic depicts a 16 year-old Pakastani-American Muslim in New Jersey struggling with fitting in, family, religion, school and all the normal teenage struggles. Then one day she has an encounter with Ms. Marvel and she confesses that she wishes she was like her. This wish was granted and now Kamala has to work out not only what it means to be a Muslim woman in America but how to use her new shape shifting powers.

“This is not evangelism. It was really important for me to portray Kamala as someone who is struggling with her faith. Her brother is extremely conservative, her mom is paranoid that she’s going to touch a boy and get pregnant, and her father wants her to concentrate on her studies and become a doctor.” – G. Willow Wilson

What I found exciting about the new Ms. Marvel is the way this series tries to break the stereotypes. As a teenage Muslim living in America, Kamala has all these ideals and stereotypes projected onto her and she has to navigate through it all and work out who she is. Ms. Marvel represents everything she wants to be; a strong, beautiful woman standing for good. However when she becomes Ms Marvel she quickly realises that being a superhero doesn’t solve the struggle of a misfit. This new Ms. Marvel series isn’t just a struggle with new found powers; it is the everyday struggles she faces. Kamala slowly works out that her new powers, religion or heritage is not what defines her but they do play important roles in the person she wants to be.

“As much as Islam is a part of Kamala’s identity, this book isn’t preaching about religion or the Islamic faith in particular. It’s about what happens when you struggle with the labels imposed on you, and how that forms your sense of self. It’s a struggle we’ve all faced in one form or another, and isn’t just particular to Kamala because she’s Muslim. Her religion is just one aspect of the many ways she defines herself” – Sana Amanat

Interestingly there are a few mentions where Ms. Marvel is referred to as Captain Marvel, unfortunately I don’t know the back story of this but I think it is a positive step. Ms. Marvel was originally created as the female counterpart to Captain Marvel. The move to turn Ms. Marvel into Captain Marvel means that the female superhero is no longer considered the counterpart but a strong and dominate hero in her own right.

You may noticed that I haven’t mentioned anything about the art work and this is because I’m new to reviewing graphic novels and have not learned how to talk about art yet. I hope to learn to critically analyse the art but for now I’m leaving it out of this review, not because it is bad but because I don’t know what to say apart from it being good. No Normal is the conclusion of the first arc (first 5 issues) and I’m really looking forward to seeing where this series goes. I think it is fresh and exciting change for the better in the world of comics.

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

Posted March 23, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Fantasy / 0 Comments

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow WilsonTitle: Alif the Unseen (Goodreads)
Author: G. Willow Wilson
Narrator: Sanjiv Jhaveri
Published: Allen & Unwin, 2012
Pages: 433
Genres: Fantasy
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Alif is the online persona of a grey hat working in the United Arab Emirates, taken from the first letter in the Arabic alphabet. Alif is a 23 year old Arab/Indian, working in internet security who fell in love with an Arab aristocratic woman he met online. Their relationship is doomed from the start; her family would never accept someone outside her social class, let alone an Indian. Her father has already arranged a more suitable suitor for her; a mysterious and powerful man who is known online as ‘the Hand’, the states leading internet censor. In an attempt to get the girl, Alif has made a powerful enemy, one that forces him to go underground into the world of Jinn’s (genies), ghouls, demons and all the others that remain unseen.

Debut author G. Willow Wilson set out to write a book that can bring her three loves together. A love of comic books and all things geeky, as well as her love of literary fiction and that of her Muslim heritage. The result is Alif the Unseen, a rich blend of cyberpunk and urban fantasy that explores the Arabic culture as well as looks as many social-political issues. Personally I think Wilson set out to expose the bias that the online community has no social consciousness, and educate the world on Muslim culture as well as explore the societal impact of hackivism.

I picked up this novel because G. Willow Wilson is the writer behind the new Ms. Marvel; the fourth character to take on this superhero and is the first Muslim character to have their own Marvel series. After reading the first issue, I wanted to check out Alif the Unseen. I knew it was a cyberpunk/urban fantasy blend but now I expected a strong Arabic or Muslim presence. I didn’t except a literary approach to this genre, but I was pleasantly surprised, Wilson has a lot to say on the Middle East social-politically speaking but also she educates the reader on a culture that is possibly unfamiliar to them.

G. Willow Wilson also takes on Middle Eastern folklore and myths and blends these fables with a religious element. Take jinn for example, we know them as genies but Islamic belief divides sentient beings into three categories. These are Malayka (angels), Nas or Banu Adam (human) and Jinn (the hidden ones). Angels are genderless and have no free will, but humans and Jinn’s are gendered and have free will, this is why Islamics believe Satan was a Jinn and not an angel, as it is impossible for an angel to disobey the will of God. Also playing a role in the story is the hamsa (or the hand of Fatima) which is like a good luck charm in Islamic culture. In the Judeo-Christian world this is often called the hand of Mary or Miriam.

I also want to talk about hackivism. In this novel Alif lives in a heavily censored world; the government believes in having a tight control on what is on the internet. Alif is a grey hat; this is a hacker that doesn’t work for a cooperation of the government.  The term comes from the old western metaphor where the good guys wore white hats and the villains had black hats. A grey hat would be someone whose activities and practices fell in a grey area. For Alif, it was a matter of free speech (and possibly money). He provided security for enemies of the Arad stats, militant Islamists and even pornographers. Sites that the government wants to shut down often turned to Alif or another grey hat for internet security.

I can probably go on and talk more about the range of topics that are going on in Alif the Unseen, but I fear I don’t have the knowledge of Middle Eastern folklore or culture, Islam and hackivism. One of the things I enjoy most about reading is the ability to explore different cultures and learn about the world. Alif the Unseen took me into the rich world of the United Arab Emirates and looked at many social issues, in particular class and religion. I’m not much of a fantasy reader but I do seem to prefer urban fantasy, add in the cyberpunk and literary elements and I’m happy. Alif the Unseen will entertain and educate all its readers; most people will just read it for the entertainment but I hope they take a little understanding with them.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

Posted August 2, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction / 5 Comments

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony MarraTitle: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (Goodreads)
Author: Anthony Marra
Published: Hogarth, 2013
Pages: 416
Genres: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

In a small village in Chechnya, an eight year old Havaa watches as her father is abducted by Russian soldiers. Their neighbour, Akhmed was also watch and takes Havaa as he knows he will be the only person that might be able to help her. They seek shelter at a bombed-out hospital, where they meet Sonja, a tough and strong minded doctor who has no desire to risk it. All three people’s worlds are turned upside down in such a short period of time. Slowly intricate patterns are revealed that bind these three companions together and ultimately seals their fate.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena takes place mainly in 1994; not too long after the dissolution of the Soviet Union (1991) and the Chechen-Ingush ASSR split (1992). Now The Chechen Republic was fighting for their independence. In the First Chechen War the Russian Federation tried to seize control only to be fought off by the locals. It wasn’t till 1996 did Boris Yeltsin’s government declare a ceasefire and eventually a peace treaty was signed. During this war it was estimated that 5,500 Russian soldiers died, between 3,500 and 7,500 Chechen militants, but the real loss was on the civilians, with between 30,000 and 100,000 deaths, around 200,000 injured and 500,000 displaced by the conflict. I wish I could tell you that we are the end of conflict with Chechnya but in 1999 the Second Chechen War was launched and the Russian Federation eventually seized control in 2009.

Now that we have an idea of what was happening in the country at the time, we get an idea of the danger that faces the three main characters. This isn’t necessarily a book about war, or the politics behind it (which basically comes down to oil) but rather the connections that link Havaa, Akhmed and Sonja together. The hardships each of them face only serves to build this beautiful story and flush out the character development. A glimpse of three different people struggling to survive this war torn land and debut author Anthony Marra managed to make this novel both compelling and emotional.

All three characters are so different you get so many perspectives within A Constellation of Vital Phenomena that will leave you pondering the novel well after you put it down. For me, I thought of Akhmed as a traditional Chechen Muslim, caught up with the past and tradition. While Sonja is the strong minded woman trying to smash through the glass ceiling, then you have Havaa an intelligent young girl that knows nothing else apart from war. You also have other characters that look at other ways the war effects the people, from abduction, smuggling, sex trafficking, amputation, punishment, torture and the list goes one. For a novel so focused on the character development and relationship of three characters, it’s impressive how it manages to deal with so many other issues.

I’ve always had a keen interest on Russian literature, plus my fascination with the motherland; so I knew I had to read this book. The collapse of The Union of Soviet Socialist Republic is an interesting topic and the instability that ensued afterwards makes for a great backdrop. I will admit I didn’t know much about Chechen history so I had to bone up a little, unable to break a bad habit I was on the Wikipedia page for Chechnya just to get more information. I feel stupid for this but I didn’t realise the majority of Chechnya were Muslims; for some reason I thought they would have been Russian Orthodox. With the help of understanding the geographical location (which helped make more sense of their Islamic influences) as well as history, I really connected with this novel.

It wasn’t just understanding Chechnya or the character development I loved about A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, it was also exquisitely written. I was sucked in by the imagery and the beauty of the prose; I was surprised this was Anthony Marra’s first novel. I would have thought he had been doing this so well , the writing was wonderful and the whole novel was masterfully executed. I hope he writes a new novel soon because I know I’m eagerly waiting to see what he does next.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is sure to be one of those books that make my ‘Best of 2013’ list, I was very impressed with everything about it. For an American writer, his grasp on Chechnya seems authentic. I don’t know much about his life so I can’t judge, he might have spent some time in the country or has friends or family from there; I do know he wrote a prize winning short story called Chechnya, but that looks like the basis of this novel (based around Sonja, the hospital and her sister). Go out and pick up a copy of this novel, it is well worth reading.

Guest Review: No Sex in the City

Posted September 27, 2012 by jus_de_fruit in Chick Lit, Guest Posts / 0 Comments

Guest Review: No Sex in the CityTitle: No Sex in the City (Goodreads)
Author: Randa Abdel-Fattah
Published: Pan Macmillan, 2012
Pages: 400
Genres: Chick Lit
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

Buy: Book Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

I read a bit of chick-lit in my early to late twenties. It was fun to read and didn’t require much brainpower. It was easy to relate to, as a young woman experiencing a similar, yet more toned down, sort of life. My tastes may have changed in recent years.  Apart from Stephanie Plum, I’m not sure the last time I read a book that fell into the chick-lit genre. Now I seem to go after historical time travelling romances. I think I lost the ability to relate with those young women trying to find Mr Right and it started to get a bit mundane, although I suppose I could still enjoy it.  My husband’s taste in books may have also redirected my attentions.

I heard about No Sex in the City when I heard an interview with Randa Abdel-Fattah on the radio. I was fascinated by her stories of parent arranged dating and was intrigued.  It’s something completely different to my own life experience.  I did once ask my dad who he would pick if arranged marriages were a thing of our culture, and after hearing his choice, I was pretty glad that wasn’t a thing.

Randa Abdel-Fattah is an Australian born Muslim of Palestinian and Egyptian heritage who seems to have achieved quite a bit in her life working as a human rights advocate and has an interest in interfaith dialogue. These interests come through in this book, as the characters are a mix of faiths.  The main character Esma is a Muslim and her best friends who form the No Sex in the City club are a Greek Orthodox, a Jew and a Hindu. An interesting combination.

Esma is trying to find the right man to settle down with, but at 28 her family are feeling a bit desperate, but Esma knows what she wants and doesn’t feel the need to settle for anything less.  Pressure from work colleagues tell her that perhaps she should just give up, play the field a bit and see what she likes but she’s pretty set on sharing her first kiss with her husband on their wedding day.

As a young Christian woman who was reading chick-lit back in the day, there was quite a bit of falling into bed with strangers that may or may not be Mr Right. I suppose it is a reflection of the society that we live in, and quite a few young women are able to relate, but I found this book so refreshing for not being afraid to illustrate the life of a young woman living a life of chastity.  The book isn’t completely prudish, as other characters choose different paths, but this is who Esma is, and she isn’t going to apologise for that. Even though the main character is a Muslim, I’d probably recommend this to Christian women as well, as they probably get disillusioned by the way certain media portrays sex.

The book is quite easy to read and completes the check list usually found in all the others of this genre. There are problems at work and within her family that she needs to overcome, and there is a bit of a love triangle that is developed. We also get to follow the stories of her three friends as they also have their own experience of dating.

It doesn’t finish with a typical happily ever after for all the characters but you can’t help but feel that it’s all for the best.  I really enjoyed journeying with this group of young women who all seemed to know what they wanted out of life and never felt the need to settle for less. I’d probably even read more if this book was turned into a series, as I found the characters to be very likeable.

This is a guest post by Mary; not only is she my wonderful wife, she is also my editor and helps moderate the Literary Exploration group on Goodreads. Big thanks to her for this post and everything she does to help me with this blog.