The murders of September 11, 2001 were the shock of a generation, a morning forever etched into the memories of those who watched the events unfold in person or on live television. In a world seemingly gone mad, some celebrated the deaths of 3,000 innocents while others yearned for revenge against those responsible for the senseless murders. Lines seemed to be clearly drawn.
Some few people, however, had a foot on both sides of that line and Shaila Abdullah tells the story of one such woman in her novel, Saffron Dreams. Arissa Illahi, a Pakistani Muslim pregnant with her first child and living in New York City, has her own world shattered on that tragic morning when her husband is killed as the Twin Towers collapse. Not only is her husband, Faizan, suddenly snatched from her forever, Arissa is left alone to cope with the birth of her child in an environment in which many see her obvious Muslim faith as the only proof they need that her sympathies are with those responsible for what happened that day.
Arissa is helped through her initial shock by family members who rush to her side, but noticeably absent is her mother, a woman who had abandoned Arissa’s family years earlier. Her in-laws stay behind when everyone else leaves to make certain that Arissa will be able to cope with her loss and her new life, themselves quietly grieving while they help Arissa through the worst of what she has to face.
And cope, Arissa does. Showing remarkable strength, and determined to ensure her husband’s legacy, she prepares for the birth of her son despite the multiple handicaps with which he is expected to enter the world so recently left by his father. At the urging of her mother-in-law, Arissa also eventually agrees to complete the unfinished novel left behind by Faizan as another way of marking his place in the world. Her new world is bounded by her son, her writing and her job, but especially by the unique bond she forms with the son who needs her so much.
Because Arissa Illahi is not the typical 9-11 widow, Saffron Dreams is much more than a novel about coping with the sudden loss of a loved one. The book deals effectively with racism, religious prejudice, fanaticism and hatred on both sides of the divide, the difficulties and rewards of raising a handicapped child, and the slow healing that finally allows a survivor to get on with the rest of her life. Despite the senselessness of what happened in New York City that morning eight years ago, Saffron Dreams is filled with strength and hope for the future. It is a reminder that the world is what we make it, one little piece at a time.
Rated at: 4.0