Italia, Islamic Style

Book Cover for Divorce Islamic Style, with cartoon depictions of main charactersDivorce Islamic Style
Amara Lakhous

So this book isn’t really about divorce. It’s about an unsuspecting court interpreter being recruited to help infiltrate a suspected terrorism ring in an Italian neighborhood with many Muslim immigrants. Only Christian, our undercover hero, really isn’t given any training that we’re aware of. He’s told, basically, to make friends with people at Little Cairo, a cultural hub and telephone shop.

Given that it’s a book about stopping a bomb plot, you might expect that it’s pretty serious. Nope. A funny book about terrorists? Maybe funny is going too far, but it is certainly witty. You get the feeling that there is something not-quite-right with Christian’s entry into the spy world. After all, his code name for his handler is Judas.

Christian spends much of his time calling his “family” back home from Little Cairo, chatting with the proprietor, Akram, and trying to navigate life as a supposed Tunisian immigrant. Along the way, he meets the lovely Safia.

Safia, or Sofia, is an Egyptian woman in a pretty traditional marriage to Felice. Back home, Felice was an architect, but in Italy, he works as a pizza maker, who has to worry about whether or not it’s haram for him to handle the ingredients required for his job. Safia has a passion for hairdressing, so when Felice told her he expected her to where the veil upon marriage, she wasn’t too happy. Who goes to a veiled hairdresser?

Safia and Felice have been divorced twice. This is where I had a bit of an “aha” moment. I had heard that in Islam you can get divorced by saying “I divorce you” three times. In my head, I always pictured that as a man just saying “I divorce you I divorce you I divorce you.” End of story. In Safia’s case, it’s clear that each of the first two “I divorce you’s” are separate incidents that require family intervention. It’s almost like a call for help, that says hey – something is not right in our relationship. Now, I am in no way extrapolating this one fictional account to a wider applicability, especially since I am so ignorant about the subject. Still, it was pretty interesting to get this perspective.

I really liked Safia. While she’s naive in some ways, she’s also thoughtful and smart and observant. The book switches between her perspective and Christian’s, and I definitely preferred her chapters. They had a much more reflective tone, while Christian’s were a bit heavy on the bumbling non-adventures. Safia is much more an actor, while Christian is acted upon. Interesting take on gender roles.

Bottom line? Fun book, quick read, smart ideas.

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