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Shereen Malherbe

Writer & author of Jasmine Falling

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May 2016

A collection of interviews with Shereen Malherbe, author of Jasmine Falling

MMW signJasmine Falling is the debut novel of British Palestinian writer (and MMW Contributor!) Shereen Malherbe. It is a tale of self-discovery and finding belonging, set mostly during ten action-charged days in Jerusalem, where Jasmine travels to find her missing father after her mother’s death.  I spoke with Shereen about the inspiration for the novel, the work of writing it, and what advice she would give aspiring novelists.

  1. How would you describe your novel Jasmine Falling? Is it a mystery, a romance, a coming of age story, all of the above?

I would describe it as all of the above! The best advice I was given was to be a storyteller. My interpretation of this, was to include elements that make the journey memorable so by weaving in these genres it hopefully offers that to my readers.”

Read the full interview via Muslimah Media WatchTAX_100116CYT005jpg_Page1

Interview in the City for  Khaleej Times.

What inspired you to write this book?

I visited Palestine and stayed with my family in the West Bank. One day, my husband and I were strolling through the streets and we saw a blacked out tourist bus pull up. Tourists spilled out onto the streets, surrounded by security, snapped photographs of a tree that Jesus was said to have slept under on his journey through Jericho. Palestinian shopkeepers came out to sell drinks & souvenirs to the tourists but the security pushed them away and they piled back onto their bus and drove off. It made me realise that people do not get to see the real Palestine.

It was this and a combination of what I discovered that started my journey to write Jasmine Falling.

What research did you do to write the book?

Authenticity was incredibly important with the book. I wanted to be true to the Palestine I discovered and to capture it, as it was when we experienced it.

I visited regularly and stayed with my family in their homes in the West Bank and Jerusalem. I spoke to them about their experiences and their stories and they helped to shape the book, with a lot of the stories in my book being inspired by their true events.

I also took lots of photographs, we had tours with a member of my family who is a journalist and followed the routes of Palestinians through the Wall and security checkpoints to really try to understand the effect of the Occupation on their daily lives.

In addition, I read books on the Jewish journey from wartime Germany to Palestine. The most in-depth of these was the journey undertaken by I.F Stone.”

Read the full interview with the U.A.E’s Khaleej Times here.

 

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Interview with Hayati Magazine

PF: Congratulations on your novel, Jasmine Falling, being published! Masha’Allah. I have to say that at first, your main character came off as a Muslim person to me. So, some of her choices made me ponder for a moment because my subconscious played the haram police a bit. *Laughs.* Was your intention to put a little doubt in the mind of your readers so that they learn not to judge?

SM: Thank you. Alhamdulillah for the opportunity to write it. My intention with my novel was to show a journey with Jasmine. At first, she associates herself with her British heritage and she has never had the opportunity to learn about her faith. My novel is designed to introduce the beauty of Islam into modern literature from an outsider’s view so it was important that Muslims and non-Muslims can relate to the character. I believe that relatable fiction is more important than portraying characters who never do anything wrong because that isn’t real life. And I guess, if it teaches you not to be judgmental then that can only be positive! ”

Read the full interview via Hayati Magazine

To watch Shereen’s appearance on the BelAhdan Show discussing writing, Palestine and her novel click here.

 

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Muslimah Media Watch Book Review: Jasmine Falling

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Republished from Muslimah Media Watch:

Jasmine Falling by Muslimah Media Watch’s very own Shereen Malherbe recounts the story of Jasmine, a young English girl who, in order to receive her inheritance after her mother dies, searches for her father in his native Palestine and winds up discovering not only the family she left behind, but also the culture to which she belongs.

As clichéd as the phrase may be, reading Jasmine Falling sent me on an emotional rollercoaster. Within the span of just a few pages I would find myself vacillating between pitying Jasmine for her loss and being downright angry with a fictional character for the decisions she makes: for example, Jasmine’s decision to get drunk in Palestine (a foreign land for her) with a guy she hardly knows, even though going to the bar had nothing to do with her mission, upset me so much I briefly stopped reading, then realized I was angry out of concern. I know people who’ve done the same thing Jasmine did, and I know the unfortunate consequences of their actions. Despite my frustrations with some of the protagonist’s choices, by the end of the novel, I was overwhelmingly happy for Jasmine, because she “found what her heart wanted.”

When I took a step back from the book after reading it, I realized I got way more involved with the characters than I normally do. As I read, I quoted the book and narrated Jasmine’s life to those around me (mostly my mother, who eventually began asking me for updates in Jasmine’s life) which speaks volumes (pun intended) about how well-written the novel is. Though written in accessible prose, the sentences are woven in such a way that the reader feels almost part and parcel of the action, of which there is plenty. Jasmine Falling is almost overwhelming in its back-to-back twists and turns, but each new plot element follows naturally from the one that preceded it.

Religion plays a more central role in Jasmine Falling than the title would suggest. Malherbe’s novel is  peppered with references to Islam, but the book doesn’t feel “Islamic,” nor do the references disrupt the flow of the story. In fact, the references propel the story as Jasmine goes down the path of growth and self-understanding. The adhan (call to prayer) in the countryside provides a cadence against which readers can measure the passage of the day. The Arabic greetings provide a layer of authenticity to the novel. Jasmine’s gradually increasing usage of phrases such as “alhamdulillah”  and her slow recollection of Islamic teachings she learned as a child (and abandoned as a teenager) artfully indicate her growth of character.

Despite the elements of Islam in Jasmine Falling, there are several themes in the novel that may appeal to a non-Muslims just as much as Muslims.  My mother,  who is a sixty-year-old Christian, was just as eager to hear about Jasmine as I was to read about her. Jasmine appealed to my mother’s sense of adventure. Those with ties to Middle Eastern culture will enjoy that aspect of the novel. Third culture children (people who grew up in a  culture different from that of their parents) and people whose parents are from two different places but they themselves only grew up in one would enjoy Jasmine Falling the most. Much of Jasmine’s internal conflict centers around cultural reconciliation. She grew up in England, and after her father disappeared, her mother essentially ignored Jasmine’s Palestinian half. Jasmine, who remembers her father, felt the emptiness, but decided to immerse herself in English culture. When she goes to Palestine, she is filled with a mix of nostalgia for the old sights and smells and regret at having let her roots slip away.

Reading this novel certainly made me realize how important it is to acknowledge and celebrate all of the cultures in which I was raised. I’m both more proud to be black and less hesitant to call myself American. Just as Jasmine realized the rejection of her father’s culture left her flailing for grounding, I have begun to  realize that the food, the media, and the traditions I grew up with make me who I am. Trying to stifle the minority culture (black) to better conform to the majority culture (American) split my personality unnecessarily, and left me generally confused. My new-found embracement of my hyphenated identity is perhaps indicative of why I enjoyed it so much: Jasmine, in a way, is me.

Though Jasmine’s reason for going to Palestine was not a happy one, the novel is not very grim. There are dark moments, as there are in most novels, but Malherbe managed to strike a balance between the uplifting moments and the somber ones. Jasmine is a youthful, audacious character, almost to the point of recklessness at times. She follows her instincts and is not afraid to speak up when she witnesses injustice. It was refreshing to read something about a Muslim woman that didn’t paint her life as exceedingly difficult, and that didn’t involve her overcoming some form of culture-based oppression that she blamed on religion. Jasmine Falling will remain on my shelf for some time to come, and I hope to find more books worthy enough to join it.

Review by Sarabi Eventide for Muslimah Media Watch

Dressing the Same: London Mayor Candidate Sadiq Khan on Hijab

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For Muslimah Media Watch:

In the UK, Sadiq Khan, the first Muslim MP for Labour, is campaigning to be the mayor of London. In recent news, comments from an interview with him stated, ‘Questions need to be asked about why Muslim women wear hijabs’. Now at first glance, I thought this must have been quoted wrong. After all, being Muslim, surely Khan knows that for some Muslim women wearing the hijab is a part of their faith? So I continued to read. Comments such as, ‘In London, we got on. People dressed the same,’ made me think that although Khan may be happy to conform to certain sartorial norms to be considered “the same”, others may not. It portrays Khan as almost whitewashing London.

I have yet to visit a part of London where people dress the same. From fashionistas setting their own trends, to the pockets of London where traditional dress from different countries billows on the streets in bright colours in local markets to London’s Brick Lane which calls itself, ‘A microcosm of London’s shifting ethnic patterns’. In fact, in London, you are unlikely to stand out as you may do in other parts of the country which haven’t seen as much ethnic diversity as the Capital. Just because Khan chose to ‘dress the same’ (which is a lot easier for a man than it can be for a Muslim woman who believes that hijab is part of her religious dress code), doesn’t mean that he should be promoting conformity and Britishness in this way. If Khan wants to dress “the same” as the majority that is his prerogative, but that isn’t the case for everyone whose dress, traditions and cultural nuances form a part of their lives and that doesn’t mean they are any less British. In a poll conducted by ICM Research, ‘86% of British Muslims feel a strong sense of belonging in Britain, which is higher than the national average.’ Khan ignores this when he argues that choosing to wear certain clothes is evidence of a lack of belonging: ‘What you see now are people born and raised here who are choosing to wear the jilbab or niqab. There is a question to be asked about what is going on in those homes.’ This statement indicates that something dangerous may be happening if women choose to wear Islamic or cultural dress, which is irresponsible given Khan’s platform to represent British Muslims. It also confuses what I think Khan’s point might be, which is that some women aren’t choosing to wear the hijab and that it can sometimes be imposed on women as a result of societal or family pressures. If this is the case, then it needs to be separated from discourse that lumps all discussions on Islamic dress together.

The critique I offer is about the presentation of Khan’s comments in the article, and the presentation of Khan’s comments simply reinforce the message that British Muslim women who choose to dress a certain way are not ‘British’. It also ignores the alternative narrative of female Muslim women who see wearing the hijab as empowering. It also does not account for women who use Islamic dress as a statement of rebellion. Dressing a certain way has long been used to assert identity or control over parental or societies pressures to conform.

Finish  reading the full post at Muslimah Media Watch

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