Have you ever read a book with so much potential only for it to turn out a boring and unappealing romance? Then you know exactly what I feel because An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi turned out to be a great disappointment for me (similar to her other standalone novel A Very Large Expanse of Sea). I think this review will be more of a rant than anything… but if I’m being unduly harsh it’s because this book claims Muslim representation (with a hijabi on the cover!!) but does not deliver. Maybe it’s just the right thing for some Muslims (and I don’t begrudge them for liking it) but it did not do for me.
(This is a side note because it’s not entirely this book’s fault, but why is there not a single book out there with a female Muslim protagonist that does NOT involve romance/boys? This is slowly becoming one of my BIGGEST pet peeves because it implies that Muslim women don’t matter except in correlation to a man, or that romance is the pinnacle of our achievement. Female characters in general are bogged down with unnecessary relationships (in my opinion) but it’s especially apparent with Muslim female characters for some reason. Not to mention that most Muslim women prefer not to date without the intention of marriage like… why purposely include it even then? It’s all just very messy and unrealistic.)
From the synopsis, it seemed like Shadi was about to go through a really big life event, or that there would be a lot of action. Unfortunately, this entire book just felt like a description of the aftermath. Everything “shocking” that was supposed to happen had already happened and An Emotion of Great Delight was only about Shadi coming to terms with it (with the help of a creepy jerk with abs, ahem, I mean *love interest*). I don’t usually mind books that talk about post-trauma, but it felt like nothing was happening in this one. Every so often someone would have a breakdown or crisis but there was absolutely no resolution that came after it (?).
The last thing I’m going to complain about is that the synopsis makes it seem like a post-9/11 setting will factor into Shadi’s life a lot. But, except for a few trite passages, I feel like this book doesn’t actually examine the topics it claims it will. For example, there are some mentions of Shadi and her loved ones facing Islamophobic attacks, but it’s never brought up again. (A similar thing happens to some of the characters; Noah and Zahra have a combined number of maybe 3 and a half scenes.) The biggest problem, I still feel, is that making Shadi read the newspaper and then claiming that the book delivers a “searing look into the world of a single Muslim family in the wake of 9/11” does a HUGE disservice to actual hatred Muslims face. It’s just feels so SHALLOW.
There are some really good things about this book, too, but they feel overshadowed by the not-so-good things. Shadi’s familial relationships feel very authentic to me, and the grief her family shares over her brother’s death carries great emotional appeal. If anything, I think An Emotion of Great Delight gives a better “searing look” into grief and how it can affect people than anything related to Islam or representation.
I give An Emotion of Great Delight 6/10. Disappointing rep, plot that does not wrap up, irritating romance, but it still offers an insightful look into grief and trauma and includes some beautifully poetic passages.
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