In this bold novel of enormous emotional intelligence, an American convert reinvents herself as a boy in her quest to become a holy warrior
Aden Grace Sawyer is 18 years old, “a serious girl, an asker of questions”. Alienated from her comfortable suburban California surroundings by family breakdown – her father has left home following an affair, and her mother has slipped into alcoholism – she turns to Islam for consolation. Her choice appears to be guided in equal measure by a genuinely spiritual urge for submission to the transcendent, and a more prosaic youthful defiance. Still in the Bay Area, she dons Afghan-style shalwar kameez, and crops her hair rather than wear a hijab. Next she plans to migrate to a godly country. Because Decker, her blustering boyfriend and travelling companion, has Afghan roots and cousins in Karachi, they head for Pakistan.
Aden’s father is a professor of Islamic studies at Berkeley, and has warned her of the limited “possibilities for a woman in that part of the world”. Aden has too much attitude to accept any sort of limitation and so reinvents herself, improbably but credibly, as a boy. With bandaged breasts, and “hidden by her clear and perfect strangeness”, she becomes Suleyman, Qur’anic student and potential holy warrior. Soon she’s attending a madrasa in the tribal areas of the Pakistani-Afghan borderlands. “So far away,” she whispers triumphantly. Too far for unlucky Decker, who only planned an adventure holiday. To sustain her role, Aden now refuses to sleep with him.
Very unusually, the book engages deeply with the purist attractions of a religious life
Link : Godsend by John Wray review – the girl who joins the Taliban