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Book Review :: When We Were Sisters by Fatimah Asghar

When We Were Sisters by Fatimah Asghar book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Fatimah Asghar’s novel, When We Were Sisters, tells the story of three sisters who are orphaned, as was Asghar. Their uncle, who remains unnamed throughout the work, takes them in, not to actually care for them, but to use the money from their father’s death to fund his get-rich schemes that never work. The girls fend for themselves, often going hungry for days or weeks, living in squalorous conditions. They also have to work through their emotional struggles on their own, leading to trauma and suffering, especially for Kausar, the youngest sister and primary narrator of the novel. She portrays the sisters as watching out for one another, referring to them as sister-brothers or sister-mothers periodically in an attempt to show their toughness and their ability to nurture one another; however, Kausar realizes late in the novel that her perception has not been accurate. Asghar is a poet—this is her first novel—and her short sections feel almost like prose poems, at times; she even intersperses more poetic sections from the point of view of “him” and “her,” the sisters’ dead parents. Given their childhood, readers should be amazed at how well the sisters are able to manage largely on their own, but readers will also spend the novel wondering about the misogyny and greed that leads to their having to.

When We Were Sisters by Fatimah Asghar. One World, October 2022.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.