Friday, June 21, 2013

Review: Painted Hands: A Novel by Jennifer Zobair

Painted Hands: A Novel
Muslim bad girl Zainab Mir has just landed a job working for a post-feminist, Republican Senate candidate. Her best friend Amra Abbas is about to make partner at a top Boston law firm. Together they’ve thwarted proposal-slinging aunties, cultural expectations, and the occasional bigot to succeed in their careers. What they didn’t count on? Unlikely men and geopolitical firestorms.

When a handsome childhood friend reappears, Amra makes choices that Zainab considers so 1950s—choices that involve the perfect Banarasi silk dress and a four-bedroom house in the suburbs. After hiding her long work hours during their courtship, Amra struggles to balance her demanding job and her unexpectedly traditional new husband.

Zainab has her own problems. She generates controversy in the Muslim community with a suggestive magazine spread and friendship with a gay reporter. Her rising profile also inflames neocons like Chase Holland, the talk radio host who attacks her religion publicly but privately falls for her hard. When the political fallout from a terrorist attempt jeopardizes Zainab's job and protests surrounding a woman-led Muslim prayer service lead to violence, Amra and Zainab must decide what they’re willing to risk for their principles, their friendship, and love.
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Publication Date: June 11, 2013
Kat's Review
Let's cut to the chase:  I Loved This Book.  Period. 
What?  You want more?  FINE.
This author wrote a novel that should be a simple story depicting the lives of several women who struggle to make the choices that are right for them despite the cultural and religious expectations of family and friends.  However, with the tense relations between many Muslim and non-Muslim Americans still so prevalent today, this really is a brave story showing the struggles that Muslim women face both from within the Muslim community and from society at large.  I love that this isn't a one size fits all approach, or an attempt to paint all Muslims with a single brush. 
At first I was concerned that the women were going to be one dimensional in their differences.  Zainab, who is for the most part a secular American woman, working in politics and eschewing any talk of domesticity, and Amra, who is a high powered lawyer but falls for a childhood crush and trades everything in for domesticity and a house in the suburbs.  Instead, the novel delves into the nuances of each woman's choices, showing in unflinching detail the conflict and compromise each makes along the way.  Although Zainab and Amra are the two main characters, there is a strong supporting cast of characters, from the white female office worker who falls for a Muslim man and then coverts to a particularly strict form of Islam when he leaves her, to Amra's new husband, struggling to understand Amra's dedication to her job and questioning her dedication to him, to Chase Holland, who vilifies Muslims for a living but finds himself in love with one against all odds. 
I'm sure there will be people who will criticize the portrayal of Islam in this book, claiming that the author simplified this or glossed over that, but I disagree.  There's not one face of Islam, not one way that people worship, for right or for wrong.  Within every culture and every religion people live their lives in a multitude of ways, reconciling their faith (or lack thereof) with their day to day choices.  That, for me, is what this book is really about.  Recognizing that there is that diversity within the Muslim community, and that each path followed has its own set of outcomes.  Hopefully, people can approach this as what it is- a wonderful work of fiction with well-drawn characters and a realistic plot that gets people thinking, regardless of where their beliefs lie. 
Rating: All-Consuming
Did I mention that I loved this book?  No?  Go get it.  It's worth every cent you'll pay.  I got an advanced ebook copy of it, but with that gorgeous cover, I'll be buying a hardcover copy to keep.
I received a copy of this title from NetGalley and the publisher in return for an honest review.


  1. Your thoughts on Painted Hands mirror my own. It's a wonderfully nuanced book by a very skilled storyteller.

  2. Hi Kathleen, I just noticed this review and wondered if you would like to link it in to the current monthly collection of books that people loved on Carole's Chatter. This is the link There are already over 20 great books linked in that you might be interested in. It would be super if you came on over. Cheers

  3. Kathleen, thanks for stopping by. I am now signed up to follow you. Hope to see you again soon. cheers


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