A little bit of back story – I first heard about Umm Zakiyyah when I saw the buzz about her South African tour. Before that, I had never come across her work – something that isn’t particularly surprising since I’ve only been reading the work of Muslim authors for about half a year.
I got the chance to hear her speak before I got the chance to read her words and I think that may have hurt my enjoyment just a bit – Umm Zakiyyah is an absolutely phenomenal speaker and the best part about watching or hearing her is the emotion that’s evoked in you.
His Other Wife is a monster novel – my favourite kind. I will admit that I had a very different idea of where this story was going to go when I first read an excerpt. I thought that I’d be reading a story of two women struggling to share the same man. His Other Wife does have a tiny bit of that but it’s about so much more.
Every single character has involved reasons motivating their actions which is a treat. You find yourself vilifying one or the other and then suddenly, there’s a bit of back story that makes their behaviour, while not excusable, a whole lot more human.
I will say one thing. His Other Wife is not an easy or entertaining read. It’s important and valuable and I appreciated it but it wasn’t a fun read that I’d grab any time I wanted to lose some time.
I also found that I didn’t particularly identify with any of the characters. I felt sorry for them and felt annoyed by them but I wasn’t really rooting for anyone’s happy ending. I’m not sure if that’s because my expectations were heightened by listening to Umm Zakiyyah in person but I expected to feel a little more when I reached the end of the book. I expected to grin in delight and instead, I just seemed to feel in abstract that something good had happened.
All in all, this is an amazing piece of work and I do think it’s wonderful to read because of the complexity and relevance of the issues it deals with. But I will say again, this is not an easy read. Go into it knowing that there are heart breaking scenes and that it may lead you to re–examine some of your own understanding.
Final rating: 4 stars out of 5.
For South Africans, all of Umm Zakiyyah’s work is available via Baitul Hikmah, the virtual and physical book store. Worldwide, I believe her books are sold through Amazon as well.