God has always been a source of confusion for Peri. Growing up in a household with a religious mother and secular father, she has seen the best and worst of both sides, and the division it has caused between her own parents. She has also had her own religious sighting- a Jinn, the baby in the mist who comes to her during periods of high stress. To help her think through her confusion, Peri’s father buys her a ‘God Diary’ in which she writes down questions she has about God and religion.
When she gets a place at Oxford University, she moves from the family home in Istanbul to Britain. There she meets Shirin, British-Iranian and an atheist, and Mona, an Egyptian-American Muslim, who believes her religion doesn’t have to conflict with her feminism. It’s inevitable that Peri is drawn to the enigmatic Professor Azur who runs a series of seminars on God. Alongside Shirin and Mona, in the eyes of a professor Azur they are the sinner, the believer and the confused.
Many years later, and Peri is a mother and a wife back in Istanbul. On the way to a dinner party her bag is stolen from the backseat of her car. In a moment of madness she chases down the thieves, putting her life in danger. During the altercation, a photo falls from her bag of herself, Shirin, Mona and Professor Azur outside the Bodleian Library recalling actions and emotions she thought she had left behind a long time ago.
This is a rich book, in terms of descriptions, characters and themes. The writing is beautiful and quotes from poetry are dropped into a story which is poetic itself. The action moves between modern day Istanbul and Peri’s memories of her childhood and her time at Oxford. In my mind, Peri is immediately relatable. Uncertain, caught between parents, caught between friends. I love how she collects English words, plucking them from books and pinning them onto post- it notes like butterflies. But it is the interactions between the friends which makes this book so special. The conversations between Mona and Shirin are conversations that are being and the world over, between muslims and non-muslims, and Mona argues her point eloquently:
“You’ve no idea how horribly I’ve been treated! It’s just a piece of cloth, for God’s sake.”
“Then why do you wear it?”
“It’s my choice, my identity! I’m not bothered by your ways, why are you bothered my mine? Who is the liberal here, think!”
The one flaw I found with the book was in Professor Azur. I found him slightly cliched at times, and his back story came as a bit of an information dump. But there is an energy about the character, and it’s no surprise people are drawn to him.
If books are escapism, then they are always a way to experience the lives of people whose beliefs are different to your own. This empathy is needed today more than ever. To quote Professor Azur: “If I am Human, my heart should be vast enough to feel for people everywhere.”
NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews