Author: Fatimah Asghar
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
First Published: August 7, 2018
Format: ARC, eBook
an aunt teaches me how to tell
an edible flower
from a poisonous one.
just in case, I hear her say, just in case.
From a co-creator of the Emmy-nominated web series Brown Girls comes an imaginative, soulful debut poetry that collection captures the experiences of being a young Pakistani Muslim woman in contemporary America. Orphaned as a child, Fatimah Asghar grapples with coming of age and navigating questions of sexuality and race without the guidance of a mother or father. These poems at once bear anguish, joy, vulnerability, and compassion, while also exploring the many facets of violence: how it persists within us, how it is inherited across generations, and how it manifests itself in our relationships. In experimental forms and language both lyrical and raw, Asghar seamlessly braids together marginalized people’s histories with her own understanding of identity, place, and belonging.
My goodness, what an astounding collection of poetry! I was absolutely dazzled by this debut collection and I’m honestly ashamed that I was granted a review copy and did not get to read it sooner. Asghar speaks to a generation of Asian American women with a great deal of understanding and empathy. There were several times where a poem hit close to home, particularly in the sections about needing to cover up one’s race and religion, or of the shame that comes with losing one’s native language.
“You speak a language until you don’t. Until you only recognize it between your auntie’s lips. Your father was fluent in four languages. You’re illiterate in the tongues of your father.”
The author is a brilliant confessional poet, opening her heart up to the readers as she explores her life from childhood to being a young American woman taking ownership of her identity. The poems swing between discussing her broken family, the pressure from traditional immigrant parents to conform, of struggling to fit in with American culture, of her religion, love, loss, and sex. Many of Asghar’s poems reference the partition of India, the point where British India was divided based on religion. Asghar is both Pakistani and a Muslim, making her an outcast everywhere. She bravely tackles issues of racism against Muslims after 9/11, of becoming both a target for violence and fetishization due to her background.
I honestly have to admire Asghar for her strong narrative voice that was both angry and compassionate in equal measure. Not once does she shy away from the more difficult subjects and at times her words were razor-sharp, but those particular poems were the ones that really got to me and made me think.