Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Review: Painted Hands by Jennifer Zobair

In Painted Hands by Jennifer Zobair, we meet Zainab Mir, Amra Abbas and Rukan, three American Muslim women who grew up together as best friends. Now adults, the women are successful in their careers and have managed to dodge their family's attempts to marry them off and move them into the traditional wife role they would like them to play. Amra is an in-demand attorney at a top Boston firm and firmly on the partner track. Her hours are long and all-consuming. Zainab is a political consultant and communications director for a feminist candidate for office in Boston - she espouses controversial positions by mainstream standards and certainly by those of her conservative Muslim family. Rukan is considering marriage to a non-Muslim which has shocked her family. The novel provides a glimpse into the dilemmas that face many young women - balancing career aspirations with desires to have a husband or kids and the selection of a spouse that a family does not support - but offers that glimpse through the lens of the Muslim-American experience.

My Thoughts
I thoroughly enjoyed this book - it is well-written and the characters are engaging. As I reflected on what captivated me about this book, I first thought it was the view into a world that is not written about much in contemporary literature. The experience of young Muslim-American women grappling with modern dilemmas like how to balance work and home life or the choice of a spouse which dismays a family, is not one widely seen in literature today. I was fascinated by the Muslim traditions and the cultural expectations placed on women. In addition, the author skillfully created multidimensional characters in these three women. It would be easy for them to all fit cultural stereotypes and be very similar to each other simply because of their common background.  Instead, they are distinct from each other and have their own story.

On reflection, however, I realize that the women's Muslim American background is a layer in this story but not the entire story. At the core, they are just modern, educated women facing the challenges we all face. What I was drawn to was their similarities to me and not to their differences. Amra, Zainab and Rukan's experiences are similar to my own and those of my friends  - their differences make the story perhaps more compelling but what I responded to most was how well their stories resonate. This is a smart, entertaining read.

You can read other reviews of this book from those on the TLC Book Tour .


  1. I said the exact same thing in my review about liking this book best for the way it reflected my experiences, even though I went into it expecting to be most interested in the differences. I also loved how well developed the characters were. I thought it was really well done :)

  2. Sounds really good. I like the cover too.

  3. This second generation ethnic American in the business world seems similar to the last book you reviewed, The Partner Track. It's good to find books that break cultural stereotypes.

  4. I love this- "what I was drawn to was their similarities to me and not their differences." A wonderful review, I'm going to add this to my TBR list.

  5. I like that you were able to identify with these women in spite of being from a completely different culture ... it just goes to show how similar we all really are.

    Thanks for being on the tour!