When We Were Sisters
LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD • “This exquisite debut wrestles with gender, siblinghood, family, and what it means to be Muslim in America—all through the lens of love.”—Time
“Haunting . . . a knife-sharp story of self-discovery.”—People
ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The New Yorker, NPR, Time, Vox, PopSugar, Autostraddle
In this heartrending, lyrical debut work of fiction, the acclaimed author of If They Come for Us traces the intense bond of three orphaned siblings who, after their parents die, are left to raise one another. The youngest, Kausar, grapples with the incomprehensible loss of their parents as she also charts out her own understanding of gender; Aisha, the middle sister, spars with her “crybaby” younger sibling as she desperately tries to hold on to her sense of family in an impossible situation; and Noreen, the eldest, does her best in the role of sister-mother while also trying to create a life for herself, on her own terms.
As Kausar grows up, she must contend with the collision of her private and public worlds, and choose whether to remain in the life of love, sorrow, and codependency that she’s known or carve out a new path for herself. When We Were Sisters tenderly examines the bonds and fractures of sisterhood, names the perils of being three Muslim American girls alone against the world, and ultimately illustrates how those who’ve lost everything might still make homes in one another.
LONGLISTED FOR THE ASPEN WORDS LITERARY PRIZE, THE CENTER FOR FICTION FIRST NOVEL PRIZE, AND THE CAROL SHIELDS PRIZE FOR FICTION
Asghar follows the poetry collection If They Come for Us with her elegant debut novel, which follows three Pakistani American sisters scrabbling to get by after their father dies. Nine-year-old Noreen, the oldest and de facto caretaker; Aisha, the quarrelsome middle child; and Kausar, the sensitive youngest, are taken in by an estranged relative, referred to only as "Uncle," who promises them a home with a zoo. It soon becomes apparent that he has taken custody only to cash the checks that the government pays him to care for the sisters (the "zoo" turns out to be a hallway of mistreated pets), and he rules the sisters' lives with authoritarian neglect, demanding they follow a strict schedule even while he leaves them unsupervised for long stretches of time. The sisters must learn to grapple with their grief while caring for each other and establishing their own identities. Asghar's poetic sensibilities are on full display in the lyrical and oblique prose ("Brown fingers cradle porcelain, the news spreading fast and careless as a common cold"), and the frequent formal experimentation enlivens the text (for example, one page reads in its entirety: "A bunk bed in exchange for a father./ What idiots. He was our father. We should have asked for more"). The result is a creative telling of a tender coming-of-age tale.