by Ernest Dempsey
Shaila Abdullah’s novel Saffron Dreams (2009), published by Modern History Press, has been listed among Open Education Database’s “50 Greatest Works of Immigration Literature.”
Open Education Database (OEDb) is credited as the first organization to release online college rankings. Since its launch in 2007, OEDb has become the most comprehensive collection of online college rankings and free educational courses. Their recent list of 50 best fiction books on the theme of immigration to America includes titles from the end of the 20th century to date. Of their list, Shaila Abdullah’s Saffron Dreams is the only book from a Pakistani author.
Written against the backdrop of the 9/11 terror strike in US, Saffron Dreams narrates the trials of a Pakistani immigrant woman who loses her husband in the September 11 tragedy in New York, followed by a rise in social hostility against immigrants from her native land. The story paints a believable picture of the challenges faced by a Pakistani woman settling in American society amidst a climate of distrust and violence.
Shaila Abdullah remembers 9/11 as a “very surreal day” for her:
“I was at work when a few friends mentioned that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. There were tears, a sense of disbelief and realization that our lives were forever changed. Over the next few days and months, I came to the conclusion that we as Muslims in the U.S. would never be looked at the same way again. That somehow we were guilty by association. It made me examine the lives of ordinary Muslims around me a bit more closely who were angry at the attacks, their hearts bleeding for the citizens of their adopted land. Saffron Dreams gives voice to their struggle. It is the story of a basic human desire to be accepted in society, no matter what your background, ethnicity or race. Since 9/11, there has been a great thirst among readers to learn more about Muslims and what drives them. The interesting thing is even the followers of mainstream Islam can’t tell you what drives terrorism.”
Responding to the question whether writing this book was challenging for her in some way, the author told that writing the book was a healing journey, both for her as a Muslim and for a nation that was bleeding at the time. In her words:
“Wherever I have gone for book events, I have been asked the same question: Have Americans healed? Have Muslims healed from the hijacking of their religion? The answer is, somewhat. But what has touched me most is 13 years later, most Americans know what fundamentalists stand for, and it is not religion. Most of them know not to lump the rest of us in that category. There is still a greater need in the U.S. for various religious entities to come together and build bridges of understanding and tolerance to find common ground.”
As she tells about the time it took her to write the book while going through a very busy period of my life with a full time job as a designer and a very young baby, “Most of the writing for the book occurred at night when my daughter would go to sleep.”
LHP Founder and Publisher Victor Volkman tells that Shaila Abdullah’s is the first book from MHP that takes the issues of immigration, belonging, and identity on in the form of a novel. The issues are echoed in Anya Achtenberg’s novella The Stories of Devil Girl (2008) which recounts a young woman’s journey from her beginnings in an immigrant NYC Jewish family nearly wiped out by pogroms and by the Holocaust. Also, Issam Jameel’s poignant memoir Iraq Through a Bullet Hole (2010) details his failed journey to repatriate himself back to Iraq at the end of the Second Gulf War.
Saffron Dreams continues to find a home in university programs, including most recently this year in the course FS102 Academic Discourse II: Changing Worlds, Selves, Stories at Allegheny College (New York) and HCOM 211 Reading, Writing and Critical Thinking at CSU Monterey Bay last year.
“In part, this is helped by a rigorous Study Guide available as a free download and found in an appendix of the Saffron Dreams Academic Edition. The book has won half a dozen awards, including the prestigious Patras Bukhari Award, and of course it has been cited in numerous academic papers and dissertations,” says Victor Volkman.
More information about the author and her work is available on her website at www.shailaabdullah.com.
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