Thursday, January 8, 2015

Finding Yourself in a Foreign Land

As Marilyn talked about earlier, this year saw the release of the absolutely wonderful comic series, Ms. Marvel. Starring a 16-year-old Pakistani-American teen, Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel has been incredibly important to many comic readers. Kamala is seen as a step in the right direction when it comes to making the comics industry a more diverse and inclusive space. A huge part of Ms. Marvel’s success can be attributed to series author, G. Willow Wilson, who has created a vibrant character with a distinct personality in just ten issues. Kamala Khan, it’s worth noting, was co-created by Wilson and comics editor Sana Amanat. (Amanat, probably the only female, South Asian comics editor, gave a great TED Talk about the importance of superheroes in encouraging us to be more accepting). So I was elated to discover Wilson has also written two books - one of which is the best book I read last year.

The Butterfly Mosque (2010) is actually Wilson’s memoir of her time living in Cairo and her eventual conversion to Islam. Other memoirs I’ve read often involve Americans travelling to Middle Eastern countries and, upon seeing poverty and injustice, do what they can to make change. That’s not inherently bad, but it was refreshing to see Wilson respond to a foreign culture by actually wanting to fit in. In fact, what I appreciated most about Wilson’s story was the effort she put in to assimilate into Egyptian society.

Incidentally, the idea of “the tourist” becoming “the traveler” through assimilation was the philosophy of famed American expatriate and author, Paul Bowles who spent the majority of his life living in North Africa. As he once put it, “one belongs to the whole world, not just one part of it.” But that’s neither here nor there.

The Butterfly Mosque chronicles Wilson’s struggles, successes, and the challenges she faces each and every day. The book is surprisingly romantic (the Egyptian man she meets during her first week in the country would soon become her husband) and unexpectedly humorous (Egyptian bureaucracy!).

In The Butterfly Mosque, Wilson paints an engaging picture of a young woman coming to terms with choices she makes that will forever impact her future. They’re not easy decisions, but Wilson writes with such a gentle, yet assured voice you can’t help be drawn into her story. I look forward to following Wilson’s continued work with Marvel Comics and I think I’ll enjoy Ms. Marvel even more having learned a little bit about her creator.

If you like The Butterfly Mosque, you might also like Firoozeh DumasFunny in Farsi.


1 comment:

  1. The Paul Bowles reference is perfect. Exactly what I was thinking reading the prior paragraph.
    Any comparisons to "Three Cups of Tea," "Kite Runner," or "Reading Lolita in Teheran"?