"Hassib, herself an Egyptian immigrant living in West Virginia, articulates the full-bodied chorus of Egypt's voices."
--The New York Times Book Review
"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."
A Real Simple Best Book of the Year (So Far)
A powerful novel about two Egyptian sisters--their divergent fates and the secrets of one family
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.
Hassib's impressive second novel (after In the Language of Miracles) is a fascinating depiction of sisters Rose and Gameela, their shared heritage, and the country that ultimately divides them. Six years after Rose relocates from her native Egypt to New York, she receives news that 28-year-old Gameela has been killed. Though her parents think Gameela's death is accidental, Rose believes there must be a connection between it and Saaber, the young suicide bomber Rose's husband Mark had written about in an article for the New York Times. Back in New York after the funeral, Rose tries to focus on her postdoctoral fellowship at the Met, yet she is immersed in Egypt's art and culture as she works on an exhibit featuring ancient Egyptian relics. Rose investigates Gameela's life, trying to piece together the chain of events leading up to her death. In grief, she reflects on how the sisters felt a chasm develop between them, starting with Gameela's desire to wear a headscarf, which surprised her liberal family. Also, Gameela initially doesn't approve of Mark, though he converts to Islam to marry Rose. Gameela becomes involved in politics after the beginning of the Arab Spring, while all Rose can do is watch from afar. Finally, Rose discovers secrets her sister kept until her death. Hassib seamlessly transports the reader from one culture to another, eloquently showcasing the triumphs, heartaches, and beliefs shared by the protagonists.