My Name Is Salma by Fadia Faqir

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My Name Is Salma by Fadia Faqir

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Paul Harrop
Reviewed by Paul Harrop
Summary: Fadia Faqir writes with skill, insight and humour about the ties of family and culture. A valuable dramatisation of the human realities behind political and journalistic hysteria about immigration.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: May 2007
Publisher: Doubleday
ISBN: 978-0385610988

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Sally, a young girl from a farming family, flees her home after falling pregnant. She ends up in Exeter, struggling to make a new life. An unexceptional, if sad, tale you might think. Except that Sally is from the Middle East, her skin is brown and her real name is Salma Ibrahim El-Musa.

My Name Is Salma is Jordanian/British author Fadia Faqir's third novel. As its title suggests, its subject is torn between the defiant assertion of her identity, despair at her forced exile, and determination to survive. It tells of Salma's seduction by her dashing young Levantine lover, her subsequent pregnancy, and her imprisonment to protect her from her brother, intent on her murder for besmirching family honour.

The narrative comprises short sections, some only a paragraph or two long, some almost poetic in their economy. Encompassing a 16-year timespan, they switch almost at random between scenes from Salma's life among her Bedouin family, her years of protective custody, her flight into a monastery and subsequent journey to asylum in England. These are interspersed with episodes from her life in Exeter as she attempts to find work, educate herself and establish a foothold in an alien environment.

The disjointed form works in many ways. Seen exclusively from Salma's point of view, it illustrates graphically her inextricable links with her past. It prevents the reader from feeling any sense of smooth progress towards a resolution. Constantly we are torn, like Salma, between a brutal past, an alien country with its own, more indifferent cruelties, and the bonds of motherhood, family and culture.

The result is an unsettling book. There are plentiful stabs of black humour and irony, mainly from Salma's efforts to find her feet among drunken landladies, randy postmen, disdainful doctors and exploitative employers. There is kindness too - from the nuns who offer sanctuary and asylum, and from the new-found friends who offer her hope on the mean streets of Devon.

But mainly there is pain. Salma is always an outsider. We experience her horror at the mundane griminess of her life in Britain. Faqir is particularly good on the particularities of mundane British reality: the dried excrement on a toilet seat, the seediness of pubs and clubs, the sad deceptions of impersonal couplings. By contrast, the yearning of Salma for her daughter and her own people, symbolised by the white baby dress she made, and her musical pipes, has a fierce purity.

We want Salma to make a new life for herself, but we know she will be forever shackled by her past. As such, this book gives a rare and valuable insight into the reality of immigration. All too easily labelled and therefore dismissed or hated, outsiders in Britain need to be shown in this way. Those of us on the inside need to feel their confusion, to identify with their hopes and fears. I have read no other book which does it so simply, graphically and without the taint of earnest righteousness.

If the themes of this book interest you, you might also enjoy Brick Lane by Monica Ali. We can also recommend Willow Trees Don't Weep by Fadia Faqir.

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Buy My Name Is Salma by Fadia Faqir at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy My Name Is Salma by Fadia Faqir at


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