I stared at the title for a few minutes. Normal Calm. The title stirred all sorts of different questions in my mind.
What could the story be about? What surprise is in there for me?
I didn’t have a paperback copy to read the outline, so I shrugged my shoulders and cuddled myself in my bed. With an abnormally cold temperature outside, in the winter chill of Canada, I would benefit from a warm story to provide me with the right blend of emotions to keep me ‘normal’.
Normal Calm is author Hend Hegazi’s first novel. It is a story that actually hit me quite deeply. The speech is simple and the tone is effective. The novel moves at a fair pace and doesn’t let the reader bore. The characters are portrayed well, and each plays his or her role beautifully in the novel.
The main character, Amina, is shown to have been sent to university by her hesitant parents, who have otherwise never allowed her to stay away from home. Letting go is not easy for them. She visits family quite often, as the university into which she’s been accepted – a top one in the US – is only at a distance of about four hours drive. She moves ahead with caution and befriends Sahar and Layal, Rami and Tariq.
Hend Hegazi handles cultural morals very well in the book and quite interestingly so. One of my favourite parts of the story was the hospitality and love shown by Amina to her friends, who were studying with her, yet were very far away from their respective families. They are welcomed by Amina’s family every Eid. Hegazi portrays the celebration of Eid as a ‘family time’ in the mosque and park, and Amina’s parents get the opportunity of knowing who Amina is spending most time with at college.
My favourite character in the novel is Amina’s non-Muslim best friend Kayla, who stays with her through thick and thin. She seems to understand Amina more than anyone and is almost always the first person that she confides in.
After the rape, at the start of the novel, the first person that Amina speaks to, is Kayla, who drives to her immediately. Even though getting raped was not Amina’s own initiative, nor was it Amina’s fault, throughout the novel she’s seen to be dubious as a potential spouse and therefore for any decent prospective proposal. Such is the stigma associated with rape victims in our societies, no matter how liberal and broad minded one is.
At the end of the story, Normal Calm came across to me as the pursuit of normality and calmness in Amina’s life, after her rape. A sensitive, taboo topic, especially in the Muslim community, is handled bravely and confidently by the author.
Whether or not Amina finds the ‘normal calmness’ in life is up to the reader to find out. A female protagonist struck by tragedy, dealing with it in quite a pragmatic way and without much support from her parents, a prejudiced community and the potential suitors who see Amina’s plight in a different lens due to different cultural norms, is what Normal Calm entails.
I recommend this impactful read to everyone. It is not very often that we see such story lines being handled by Muslim authors. This book provides an insight on the struggles that abused raped victims face and may prove to work as a therapy for such victims. I would have loved to see religion play a more vital role in coping with some of the psychological after affects of this calamity; nevertheless, Normal Calm is an excellent read. And when I needed a warm story to provide me with the right blend of emotions to keep me ‘normal’, Normal Calm did just that!
This review was published at Young Muslimah Magazine.