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A Pure Heart
Sisters Rose and Gameela Gubran could not have been more different. Rose, an Egyptologist, married an American journalist and immigrated to New York City, where she works in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gameela, a devout Muslim since her teenage years, stayed in Cairo. During the aftermath of Egypt's revolution, Gameela is killed in a suicide bombing. When Rose returns to Egypt after the bombing, she sifts through the artifacts Gameela left behind, desperate to understand how her sister came to die, and who she truly was. Soon, Rose realizes that Gameela has left many questions unanswered. Why had she quit her job just a few months before her death and not told her family? Who was she romantically involved with? And how did the religious Gameela manage to keep so many secrets?
Rich in depth and feeling, A Pure Heart is a brilliant portrait of two Muslim women in the twenty-first century, and the decisions they make in work and love that determine their destinies. As Rose is struggling to reconcile her identities as an Egyptian and as a new American, she investigates Gameela's devotion to her religion and her country. The more Rose uncovers about her sister's life, the more she must reconcile their two fates, their inextricable bond as sisters, and who should and should not be held responsible for Gameela's death. Rajia Hassib's A Pure Heart is a stirring and deeply textured novel that asks what it means to forgive, and considers how faith, family, and love can unite and divide us."
PRAISE FOR A PURE HEART
“A Pure Heart is a timely, sweeping tale that examines the intersection of fate and choice, the pull of culture and identity, family and love . . . 'Very few people can see the whole story when they are at its center,' Mark acutely observes. And that’s the artistry of this novel: Each of the characters, in turn, is at the center; and each one, in a flawed and human way, is in pursuit of their own version of purity of heart."
—Kathryn Burak, The Boston Globe
"A lovely novel about the bonds of family and how religion can bring people together as well as tear them apart. . . . Hassib structures it beautifully—while there's real suspense in the book, it's not at the expense of the characters, who are each given ample space to tell their own stories, reveal their own motivations. . . . Hassib displays a keen understanding of how the relationships between spouses, siblings, and parents and children play out during times of stress. . . . Hassib doesn't settle for easy answers; she understands that scars never completely heal. . . . Hassib is a perceptive writer with a real understanding of how people act—not how they ought to act—and A Pure Heart is a novel that's as honest as it is engrossing."
—Michael Schaub, NPR.org
"In A Pure Heart, Hassib, herself an Egyptian immigrant living in West Virginia, articulates the full-bodied chorus of Egypt’s voices—even that of Saaber, the 21-year-old extremist bomber who is afforded a few of his own impassioned, nuanced asides as he struggles to interpret God’s intention for him—dismantling stereotypes of her country and culture. In so doing she exposes mankind’s best and worst qualities, our universalities and differences, illuminating all the while the myriad ways in which a heart can be pure.”
—Noor Brara, The New York Times Book Review
“Hassib’s novel shines as one of the finest explorations of identity, religion, and culture in modern American literature. Her background leaves her particularly well situated to develop these themes … brilliantly illuminates the complications of our world: the clash of religious beliefs, the uneven division of wealth, our classist snobbery, the failure of our best intentions. Yet the story is not simply an examination of problems. It is also a fervent illustration of the strength and beauty of familial bonds, ties that persist even after death.”
–Donna Meredith (The Southern Literary Review)
"A Pure Heart is poised, intelligent, very grown-up writing, equally at home in all its environments."
—Robin Yassin-Kassab, The Guardian
"Exquisite. . . . Anchoring the story is a pair of Cairo-born sisters whose fates spin in radically different directions in the wake of the Egyptian revolution. . . . A lovely novel that does a remarkable job of bringing troubling realities to light, and life."
“Set in the aftermath of Egypt’s Tahrir uprising, this novel follows two sisters as they navigate complicated geopolitics and their own differences. . . . After Gameela dies . . . Rose struggles to unearth the secrets of a sister she never truly knew, who emerges as a fascinating enigma, full of contradictions.”
—The New Yorker
“A Pure Heart is an emotional portrait of sisterly relationships and how political strife and change affects even the most personal aspects of our lives.”
—Real Simple's "Best Books of 2019 (So Far)"
“A Pure Heart grapples with the question of how to be many things at once. . . . Hassib is especially talented at rendering the small details of daily Egyptian life—not in some exoticized fashion but rather as a foundation on which to lay the wide variety of experiences, ideologies, and aspirations of the country’s citizenry. These details found throughout the book, shine. . . . What’s most impressive about A Pure Heart . . . [is] the novel’s meditation on the nature of multiple identities.”
—Omar El Akkad, BookPage (starred review)
“A multifaceted look at the complicated legacies of identity, religion, and politics in Egypt after the Arab Spring emerges. Even the story of the suicide bomber is given careful consideration in this enlightening, heartrending novel.”
“[A Pure Heart] fluidly explores how even seismic historical events can mix with everyday emotions such as sibling rivalry and insecurity to concoct a potent brew. . . . A devastating definition of the new normal in which revolution does not always deliver real power to institute change.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A profound tale of two Egyptian Muslim women in the 21st century, and the decisions they make in work and love that determine their destinies. This is a timely, thought-provoking novel that explores the intersection of religion, identity, and politics in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.”
—BookRiot‘s “7 of The Buzziest Beach Reads of The Year”
“Hassib’s impressive second novel is a fascinating depiction of sisters Rose and Gameela, their shared heritage, and the country that ultimately divides them. . . . Hassib seamlessly transports the reader from one culture to another, eloquently showcasing the triumphs, heartaches, and beliefs shared by the protagonists.”
“Hassib draws an intimate portrait of contemporary Egypt, deftly explaining the complexity of political viewpoints regarding the revolution and post-revolutionary years. Through her characters, she shows the subtle differences in class, culture, and religious belief that can cause fractures in families, marriages, and societies. . . . Giving a voice to everyone, even the bomber, Hassib displays empathy and compassion steeped in a deep knowledge of her subject. Recommended.”
“A captivating novel about family, love, and home. Hassib masterfully excavates the secret loyalties that drive women to make fateful choices and, in so doing, explores important themes of guilt and responsibility, shame and forgiveness.”
—Laila Lalami, author of Pulitzer Prize finalist The Moor’s Account
“Full of intelligent reflections about exile, this moving novel about two Egyptian sisters—one in New York, the other in Cairo—carefully dramatizes the curdling of individual dreams in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.”
—Karan Mahajan, author of National Book Award finalist The Association of Small Bombs
“A stunner of a book. Weaving through the lives of two sisters split by destiny, Hassib’s latest novel is a story of excavation: of countries and people. With the Egyptian revolution as backdrop, Hassib masterfully explores the loyalties, geographies and histories that can both partition and bind family.”
—Hala Alyan, author of Dayton Literary Peace Prize and Arab American Book Award winner Salt Houses
“It would be unjust to call Hassib’s A Pure Heart anything but heartbreaking and beautiful. Nearly every character is trapped between political, religious, and geographic extremes, trying to figure out who they are and what they love. These goals are always in sight, but, for some, ever beyond reach.”
—Ian Bassingthwaighte, author of Live from Cairo
“Rajia Hassib’s latest novel is a lyrical, heartfelt reflection on the Egyptian revolution as well as on the painful secrets that separate two sisters.”
—Susan Muaddi Darraj, author of Arab American Book Award winner A Curious Land