Bloomsbury India’s That Thing We Call A Heart by Sheba Karim is quite anecdotal.
At 220 pages long, this book, That Thing We Call A Heart by Sheba Karim will take you on a nostalgic ride.
The novel follows the story of Shabnam, a high school girl, who will soon start her college life. She is best friends with Farah but Farah’s change of fashion or rather, embracing the Islamic custom of Hijab puts distance between the two. However, the summer that they are apart, Shabnam discovers ‘That Thing We Call A Heart‘ and that’s what brings the two back together.
This is a simple, everyday story. It is quite episodic and made me nostalgic. The kind of bond between Farah and Shabnam is enviable.
Farah is a free spirited yet God loving girl. Shabnam is much like any other girl you will come across. It is, perhaps because of this trait, I felt an affinity towards Shabnam. I could totally relate to her. I loved the character of Farah. She is so carefree and mature that it is no wonder Jamie, Shabnam’s boyfriend, wanted to know Farah better. Even I want to know Farah better. She easily became my best buddy as well. Jamie, on the other hand, gave me negative vibes right from the beginning. And I loved how this character met its conclusion in Shabnam’s life. Another lovable character is Shabnam’s father whose love for poetry inspired me to put pen to paper and try writing a Ghazal. Of course, the credit for this goes to the author, Sheba Karim, who brought forth the beauty of Urdu poetry so deftly in this book. (I have loved Urdu poems and Ghazals and so I found myself recommending this book to almost everyone who shared my interest in Urdu poetry. If I am not reading a book or writing a book, I am reading Ghalib online.) And then there were small characters like Dino, Aunt Marianne, Shabnam’s mother, Ryan, Natasha, and Chotay Dada. The fact that Chotay Dada played a pivotal role in shaping an eminent episode in Shabnam’s life is praiseworthy. This character wasn’t present throughout and yet got himself a justified space in the plot. Even a bench in the park, by the pie shack, of that of Late Mrs. Joan Milton, was a character witnessing Shabnam’s love story unwind. The band, Antigone, and their assertive song that author penned in this book was inspiring.
The author introduced two cultures in this book simultaneously – one, the high school culture of US, and two, the South Asian culture found in the households of Muslims living in US. I say, South Asian culture found in the households of Muslims living in US because, the way Qureshi and Farah’s family dwell in an alien setup is how any Indian Muslim will also find himself behaving in the environment. And the fact that Shabnam wants or at least shows a tad interest in being a part of the popular white teen group in school and abandons Farah when she starts wearing a Hijab shows the kind of dilemma Muslims face while among the White. The whole idea of wearing a Hijab and not wearing it, the treatment of a religion by the two young ladies – Farah and Shabnam, the jam Shabnam feels about being friends with a ‘Hijabi girl‘ are all portrayed so well and effortlessly by the author.
The conversations in this novel won me. They are emphatic and real. They are raw and mature. These words have an instant connect. The thoughts on love, Sufism, Urdu Poetry, Islamic culture of Hijab are so ripe that they struck a chord with me. And then there’s Dino’s story that made me mush. The conversations are peppered with humor and sarcasm enunciating the lingo of American teens.
What I didn’t like about this book is the fact that Partition of India in 1947 was just a part of a facade put up by Shabnam. It had no strong presence in the novel. I was perhaps expecting a twist wherein I could get to read more about Partition.
The author plays around the theme of love and break-up very well. At some point in our lives we have had our heart broken by our crush or ex. And that’s what the author portrays.
Overall, this novel is one coming-the-age story of Shabnam Qureshi.
Publisher: Bloomsbury India
Available: Amazon, Flipkart, In-store