I find it hard to critique translations, because I don’t know what lapses in writing quality or uses of language are the translator’s versus the author’s. Having read only a couple contemporary(ish) French novels in translation (off the top of my head I can think of Bonjour Tristesse and Breathe, and I’m not sure if there are more), the writing style seemed like how I remember the others – that is, spare and also with a lot of tonal things that I think Americans would consider more appropriate in a book for younger readers, like “How interesting it was that blah blah!” with exclamation points and the like. My first instinct was to think it juvenile, but I think that’s just a cultural thing, not actually a juvenile thing. This book is one of those ones that’s deceptively simple and looks like it will be easy and light, but it’s so not.
Again, publisher synopsis because I don’t feel like it:
Sohane loves no one more than her beautiful, carefree younger sister, Djelila. And she hates no one as much. They used to share everything. But now, Djelila is spending more time with her friends, partying, and hanging out with boys, while Sohane is becoming more religious. When Sohane starts wearing a head scarf, her school threatens to expel her. Meanwhile, Djelila is harassed by neighborhood bullies for not being Muslim enough. Sohane can’t help thinking that Djelila deserves what she gets. But she never could have imagined just how far things would go. . . .
I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister (IndieBound) has the best feminism, and even though I like to consider myself utterly enlightened and totally beyond this stuff, I had to remember that while I was like, “Right on!” with all the points in this book about how feminism is choice and oppression is not synonymous with “hijab,” I have made similar unkind assumptions regarding some of my own peers’ choices when we came back from our Birthright trip to Israel and some girls decided that they wanted to go Orthodox. So to remember that it’s only oppression when it’s forced upon someone is a good thing to remember about all cultures, not just Islamic ones.
Anyway, this book is about 150 pages long and yet manages to pack in absolutely fascinating and deeply important conversations about slut shaming, religious institution vs. state, emigration and nationality, second- and third-generation immigrant populations, male privilege, and white western feminism (implied) vs. all other feminisms. And it’s never didactic or full of authorial interventions but instead is a sad, moving, and ironic story about sisters who are each shamed for their choices: one because she doesn’t abide by strict Muslim standards for women and one because she chooses to cover her head.
And you know what’s amazing about this book? It doesn’t take a stance on religious people like so many other books are wont to do, presenting observant people as idiots or zealots. It’s told from the perspective of the sister who is more observant, but she respects her sister’s right and desire not to cover her head as much as she stands by her own choice to do so. AND THE PARENTS SUPPORT BOTH GIRLS AND ON THE MORNING THAT SOHANE WEARS A HEAD SCARF FOR THE FIRST TIME, THE MOM TELLS EACH OF HER DAUGHTERS THAT THEY ARE BEAUTIFUL. And it’s clear she means it and supports it.
Oh, did I mention that there is what you think will be a totally typical (for the media, I mean) Muslim “extremist” uncle and “traditional” dad, but it turns out each one is actually just a human being with thoughts and ideas that are earnest and meant well, and both men are respectful to the girls even when sometimes having what we consider “old fashioned” beliefs? Yup.
I’m planning on booktalking this novel with some middle schoolers next week. It’s well written (if awkward, likely from both the translation and just that our cultural tastes and what we’re used to is not really what this is like) and deeply important. I’ll be thinking about it for awhile.