REVIEW: The Pen by Sara Allen
Hafsah Simpson is different from some of the women she knows. She’s not interested in falling into someone arms, just because her parents think she should. Neither is she aching for love. Finding that the men who’ve approached her, have done so because their parents arranged the meeting, she’s fed up of that first glance, the widening of the eyes, and the smirk on the lips. Hafsah knows there isn’t any interest from the brother’s she’s forced to meet.
Choosing a career over marriage, she’s finding joy in championing Muslim artists, bringing their work out of the dark and into the limelight. Her latest project on ‘The Art of The Quran’, means she gets to meet a little-known Qatari calligrapher, one who’s penmanship is exquisite. Hafsah’s interested in one thing only, learning as much as she can from the man while he’s at the gallery. With the select few who’ve managed to secure a place in the classes, Hafsah knows it’s an opportunity she’s not willing to miss.
Abdul-Latif, a Qatari calligrapher, is running away from the women his parents are intent on throwing at him. He wants more than the loveless marriage he’s seen his parents endure. Having seen his grandfather, who met and married the woman of his dreams, he desires the same. However, Abdul has no dreams. Isolated in the tiny Emirati state, his experiences supervised by an over-bearing father, and an obsessive mother. He knows they only want the best for him, but he’d like some breathing space as well.
A London gallery invites him to showcase his calligraphy, as well as conduct a series of five-day classes. It’s the opportunity he’s been looking for to avoid the latest match his mother has lined up for him as soon as the holy month is over. The invitation will give him the chance to complete the month in peace, surrounded by the two things he loves the most; recitation of the Qur’an, and the beautiful calligraphy that shapes the words.
What Abdul doesn’t expect, is meeting the headstrong gallery assistant. She’s unlike the meek-seeming and calculating women he’s met before. Abdul is going to take a chance and get to know her and her family, even if he must stay in London until Ramadan comes around again next year.
Dear Ms. Allen,
I noticed this “Ramadan Nights” series last year but it took me until now with the release of the second set to get started reading them. Though this is a novella, there’s a lot packed into it. Maybe a bit too much.
I enjoyed seeing Hafsah and her cousin who are both working professional women in London. It’s obvious that Hafsah’s supervisor places great faith in Hafsah’s ability to help set up and arrange the lessons with a famous Qatari calligraphist. However, as she’s still expected to get her work done, she can only take sporadic advantage of the opportunity to sit in on the lessons and always creates a bit of a (distracting, IMO) entrance. Abdul seems remarkably tolerant of this woman crashing into his lessons but Hafsah appears ready to take anything he says the wrong way.
Looking for a place to pray, Abdul encounters a kind older man who guides him to a local masjid and introduces him around. It’s only after a week of all of this that Abdul invites the brother to the art gallery to speak with him about the woman Abdul has met and ask the man’s opinion. Well we can guess who the man is but I was as surprised as Hafsah when Abdul indicates he wants to make an offer of marriage. Soon he and his cousin arrive at Hafsah’s house and fireworks go off.
As I said, it turns out that for me there was more crammed into this story than it could efficiently handle. The actual courtship between Hafsah and Abdul is very briefly shown with a few public excursions along with younger family members as chaperons. As they interact at the art gallery, I was okay with seeing them get to know each other there as well as at the V&A Museum visit. The family drama that erupts at Hafsah’s house allows them to see how the other reacts to it. It was this drama that I didn’t see the need for. I guess it shows that family members of all faiths can act badly? Once the marriage is settled, I wonder how the family gatherings will go. Then Abdul says something about how there was more they had to face but then dropped the subject without saying anything further. What was that all about? It’s clear that Hafsah and Abdul have found The One and have a marriage they are deeply happy in but I was left with unanswered questions about the family drama. B-