Reading · Writing

Book Review: Hijab And Red Lipstick by Yousra Imran

Genre: Adult Fiction

Rating: 5/5

Plot:

You cannot do anything in this country without my permission.”

Being a teenager isn’t easy. And it doesn’t help when you have a mega strict Egyptian dad who tells you that everything is “haram” a.k.a. forbidden. All Sara wants to do is experiment with makeup, listen to the latest Destiny’s Child single and read fashion magazines, but her dad’s conservative interpretation of Islam makes it impossible. Things get even harder when her dad lands himself a job in the Arabian Gulf and moves Sara and her family to a country where the patriarchy rules supreme. In a country where you have to have your father’s permission for everything, every door feels like it is being closed on Sara’s future. In a desperate bid for freedom, Sara makes a judgement call that threatens to ruin their dysfunctional father-daughter relationship forever.

Hijab & Red Lipstick is told from the perspective of a young British Muslim woman growing up between London and the Middle East. It is a tale of a young woman’s difficult quest to find herself, offering an unusual and unique insight into life in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE, where people’s personal lives, relationships and coming of age experiences are rarely spoken about.

My verdict: Firstly Thank you to Netgalley for letting me read this book before it’s release to the general public. Wow! What a book! A powerful memoir about a young woman’s life in the often stereotyped UAE. Throughout the novel we see Sara struggle with her faith and the restrictions faced by women in the UAE whilst the men have more freedom and opportunities. Not only does this book deal with a struggle to conform to what seems like an oppressive community’s rules and expectations but also things that aren’t openly talked about not only in the east but also the west like mental health, sexual assault, domestic abuse and struggling with your identity; especially as Sara’s mother was English and so felt the pull and desire for western ideals. Overall, a very emotive read where you couldn’t help empathise with Sara’s family but at the same time it makes us realise how lucky we are as women to have all the opportunities we do. I felt a solidarity with Sara and championed her throughout and I loved how the red lipstick became an allegory for her identity outside the family and community ideals. It must have been hard for her to write about these issues and publish them but in by doing so provides a spark of hope for young women in similar situations (I hasten to add that not all eastern communities and family’s are oppressive like the media wants us to believe.) and by raising her voice can cause ripples that lead to waves that lead to change. Lots of readers would probably say that it just covers the different attitudes to men and women in the east and yes, it is partly that but most importantly it is a feminist raising her voice for the greater good. If you love Malala yousafi and Khaled Hosseni, you will love this real life experience of a half English and half Egyptian young woman and her battle for independence and the yearning to become a valued individual in a time when the majority of women are underestimated and disregarded.

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