Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)
Rukhsana tries her best to live up to her parent’s unbelievably high expectation. Luckily for her, she has only months between her life in Seattle to her new life in Caltech, where she can hope to be herself with her girlfriend, Ariana. But when her parents catch her with her girlfriend, she finds herself travelling to Bangladesh, believing she was visiting a sick relative and stripped off her passport until she agrees to an arranged marriage. As she plans to return to the States, she discovers her grandmother’s diary and learns to find strength without losing her family in the process.
This book is emotional and brilliant in every way possible. I warn it isn’t an easy read. It discusses colourism, homophobia, Islamophobia, assault, abuse, forced marriage and hate crimes. The sheer depth of this book is mesmerising and packs a hell of a punch. Rukhsana’s experience is one that is all too real and heart-breaking.
Rukhsana spends most of the time trying to balance her life; she desperately wants to be with Ariana, who innocently doesn’t understand how culturally conflicting the situation is to Rukhsana, while also not wanting to disappoint her family. This book is stuffed with the beauty of Bengali culture; the clothing, customs and food is brilliantly showcased here.
Family is a big theme in this book, and I loved her familial relationships. Her brother, despite being annoyingly pampered by her parents, understood his privilege and did his best to help his sister. Her cousin a happy presence in her life once she comes to Bangladesh. Her grandmother held deep secrets which hide a very devastating history.
What I appreciated the most was the discussion that began about the LGBT+ community in Bangladesh. There’s this pocket of the story where it discusses the extreme dangers that Bangladeshis, who are not straight, face. Rukhsana compares her own experiences in America to those in Bangladesh and discovers that even she often saw things through a US-centric lens, and discovers that there’s a lot that is different. A small group of characters are introduced who campaign for the betterment of the LGBT+ community in Bangladesh. It’s introduced rather late in the novel, so I was a little disappointed there wasn’t more surrounding this part, especially its importance in the last half of the story. We get these moments of quick, drastic event which is then followed by slower scenes to bide time until the next one. And this made the pacing was a little off, so not everything got the right coverage I think it actually deserved.
Overall, The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali is an emotional, page-turning read. It’s personal and bold, with a hopeful and happy ending. Khan is making a splash with her brilliant debut novel that and I can’t wait to read more from her in the future.