Monia Mazigh’s debut work of fiction, a novel in stories called Mirrors and Mirages (which was nominated in its original French version for the 2012 Trillium Book Award), was about young Muslim women in Canada trying to reconcile conservative religious values with the freedoms of a liberal society. In her second novel, a translation of Du pain et du jasmin, Mazigh has created two inspirational role models. Both of these characters are the kind of fighters who, if necessary, would not hesitate to become as politically active as Mazigh was herself during her high-profile campaign to free her husband, Maher Arar, from unjust incarceration and torture in a Syrian prison.
Nadia is a young woman caught up in the violent 1984 bread riots in Tunisia. After one rash act shatters her academic and career prospects, she flees her homeland for Canada. Two decades later, Nadia sends her teenaged daughter, Lila, from Ottawa to live with friends in Tunis, where she is to study Arabic and nourish her Tunisian roots. Lila becomes a player in the revolutionary Arab Spring that launched rebellions across the Middle East. Nadia and Lila are credible, fully formed characters, of the sort that the reader can’t help but cheer for. Mazigh’s plot preserves the suspense as to their ultimate fates until the very end. On the level of technique, however, the book has problems. Dialogue is often stilted, and the author has a tendency to tell us rather than show us what is happening.
Nadia, for example, becomes politicized by watching television footage of the poor rioting against the government: “As I watched the images, I realized for the first time in my life that the cocoon in which I’d been living for the last eighteen years was nothing but a flimsy partition that kept me from seeing the other reality, that of the poor and the downtrodden, of those who suffer in silence.” Nadia’s thoughts seem borrowed from some revolutionary textbook; it’s too much a lecture and not enough a drama.
Despite its flaws, Hope Has Two Daughters is an important work of fiction. The author writes respectfully about the lives of Muslim women – both those who share her own beliefs and habits and those who have chosen a different path.