Title: The Love & Lies Of Rukhsana Ali
Author: Sabina Khan
Published: January 29th 2019
Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟
Seventeen-year-old Rukhsana Ali tries her hardest to live up to her conservative Muslim parents’ expectations, but lately she’s finding that harder and harder to do. She rolls her eyes instead of screaming when they blatantly favor her brother and she dresses conservatively at home, saving her crop tops and makeup for parties her parents don’t know about. Luckily, only a few more months stand between her carefully monitored life in Seattle and her new life at Caltech, where she can pursue her dream of becoming an engineer.
But when her parents catch her kissing her girlfriend Ariana, all of Rukhsana’s plans fall apart. Her parents are devastated; being gay may as well be a death sentence in the Bengali community. They immediately whisk Rukhsana off to Bangladesh, where she is thrown headfirst into a world of arranged marriages and tradition. Only through reading her grandmother’s old diary is Rukhsana able to gain some much needed perspective.
Rukhsana realizes she must find the courage to fight for her love, but can she do so without losing everyone and everything in her life?
“IT WAS AS IF THERE WERE TWO PARTS OF ME, BUT THEY WOULD NEVER FIT TOGETHER.”
Trigger warning for colourism, homophobia, graphic violence, abuse and rape.
The Love & Lies Of Rukhsana Ali is more than just a love story about two girls from different worlds. It is a love letter to the second generation immigrant kids who belong to two places that will never be parts of the same puzzle.
Even though I enjoyed reading Rukhsana’s story, I did have major issues with the disjointed writing, particularly at the beginning of the novel. The use of the past tense instead of the present meant there was this emotional disconnect between her thoughts and feelings and the events of the novel that had already transpired. Hence, it did not have the emotional impact that it should have given the difficult themes the narrative explores.
In particular, when it came to Rukhsana’s relationship with Ariana, it was largely underdeveloped and I couldn’t root for them or understand what Rukhsana was fighting for when most of their interactions involved emphasising their differences instead of why they were compatible. However, I did love many of the other secondary characters and appreciated the way the author represented the diversity of people within our culture through characters like Shaila, Sohail and Nani, who did not possess a backwards mentality just because they had not been raised in the Western world. The book also does well to call out and challenge the harmful ideologies that make up this mentality, such as colourism and the preferential treatment of boys.
For the most part, this book made me long for something I’ve never really had; that is, a connection to my motherland and my grandparents. All of the cultural details were incredibly relatable, from the description of us as a vertically challenged people to the way weddings double up as matchmaking events. I also liked how the author specified the differences between the countries within the South Asia region since they are often treated as interchangeable from having similar cuisines and languages and fashions.
In regards to the setting, Khan’s writing is incredibly descriptive and really captured the atmosphere of Bangladesh as I remember it. I was not prepared for the amount of food that was mentioned and it was hilarious to see the way Rukhsana’s mother would overfeed her friends because of how accurate it was. However, it did read more like a cookbook than a novel at times and, by listing the various ingredients within certain dishes, it felt like the author was trying too hard to make it palatable for anyone who didn’t belong to our culture as if Google doesn’t exist.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this novel because representation is important and having my culture presented on the page is something I’ll never get used to having grown up not knowing what that feels like. The story is not so much about Rukhsana learning from her emotionally devastating experience but rather how others learn to accept her for who she is, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing because it gives us hope. Ultimately, I finished this book with an unbroken heart but with an intense hunger for a place I’ve never really known yet have always called a home.