Review: Called to Song by Kharnita Mohamed

Quick Note: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. That said, my thoughts are my own and I am not being monetarily compensated for this review.

Called to Song begins with Qabila grieving her mother, second-guessing her husband and trying to unravel peculiar dreams that won’t leave her alone. And then, it gets worse. We’re taken along as Qabila shatters and we get to watch as she puts herself together again, making several difficult decisions along the way. Reading the blurb on the back leads the reader to assume that Qabila ‘s marriage was a matter of convenience for them both, the only option available to save the reputations of a couple who’d conceived a child out of wedlock. But the truth is quite different, and this truth of Qabila’s desire for Rashid and her attempts to mould herself into the perfect fit for him tell us everything we need to know about the power imbalance within their relationship.

Cover of Called to Song by Kharnita Mohamed
I mean, look how pretty it photographed! It looks like henna [my one true love].

First off, my favourite thing about this book has to be the cover. It’s just so good at catching the eye. I’m not normally one to rave about book covers, but this one really did deserve a special mention. This is Kharnita Mohamed’s debut and I’m already pretty sure that I’ll pick up whatever she publishes next.

Set in Cape Town, South Africa, Called to Song is the kind of novel that I now wish I could have read high school – and it’s also the kind of novel that I actively stayed away from seeking out when I was younger. It’s an uncomfortable story, and it shines a spotlight on some of the open secrets that are common in Muslim communities. The racism, the sexism and the abuse described in this novel struck a nerve with me. It all felt incredibly familiar, as though my own backyard was the one being described.

The one thing that I kept noticing (besides the realism) as I read this was the writing style. It felt analytical, almost academic. And it worked perfectly to make the story Qabila’s that little bit more. It also perfectly balanced the periods of volatile emotion that Qabila went through, ensuring that her feelings were conveyed to the reader without allowing it all to turn to melodrama.

I would have liked to have seen the last part of the book a little more fleshed out. Qabila’s growth was lovely to read, but a few of the steps she took towards the end – specifically with the poetry and music – felt like they came out of nowhere and I didn’t get to find myself nodding my head as the dots finally connected. None of it was particularly out of character enough to make me frown, I just wish that there would have been a few more breadcrumbs scattered about to build the anticipation for the reader as Qabila took each step.

I really did appreciate this book. It wasn’t the most entertaining read, but it was very informative and it ended in a satisfying manner, resolving most of my questions. That’s not to say that the ending was tied up in a nice, pretty bow because it wasn’t. But Called to Song is a realistic book and it ended realistically. I found it quite difficult to relate to Qabila, but her story drew me in nevertheless. I’d recommend this to anyone wanting to understand some of the undercurrents of the South African Muslim community and to anyone who enjoys reading about women taking back their agency.

I give Called to Song 4 stars.

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