The Love And Lies Of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan is the story of young lesbian Rukhsana who struggles to find approval from her conservative Muslim parents. One day, when Rukhsana is caught kissing her girlfriend, her parents become furious and they take her to Bangladesh to try and “heal” their daughter and from there Rukhsana is thrust in a world of arranged marraiges and tradition. Through conversations with her grandmother, Rukhsana gains the courage to stand up for herself and for her right to love who she loves.
I listened to this book on audiobook and I highly recommend reading it that way because the narrator does a phenomenal job of immersing us into the story. However, I feel Khan deserves credit for crafting a story that truly packs a punch and makes a statement about what it is like to be a queer person in Bengali culture.
The cultural allusions and descriptions were the strongest element of Khan’s novel. Reading the book felt very immersive and like I was getting to know a culture, before reading this book, hadn’t been too familiar with. One example, there are a few moments where the process of making authentic chai tea is described; it felt like I could smell all the aromas from the spices, and I felt like I was getting to know all the nuances involved in the process and the symbolism of chai tea for Bengali culture.
I also loved how Khan was able to tell an intersectional story about cultural identity interweaving with a person’s queer identity and how for some people, that intersection of identity can be difficult to overcome.
When Rukhsana’s parents find out about their daughter’s sexuality, a lot of their negative reaction stems from their fear about how other members of their Bengali community will view them. Their status within the community becomes more important to them than their daughter’s happiness, and it made for a very moving story having to read about how hurtful and damaging it is to Rukhsana’s mental health.
Which brings me to my final point I want to discuss about this novel: Khan did a phenomenal job of giving the reader really well written character development. Not just from seeing Rukhsana grow as a character despite her obstacles, but even through all of the side characters such as Rukhsana’s parents, her grandmother, her girlfriend Ariana, all of these characters were written in such a way that they felt authentic and real; Khan allowed us to not necessarily excuse bad behavior (such as with Rukhsana’s parents) but have an understanding of where their actions stemmed from. The whole time while I felt for the way Rukhsana was being treated, I also understood the deeper meaning behind her parents actions and in doing so, Khan managed to create such a well rounded story.
Overall, I think Sabina Khan graced readers with a perspective of queer identity they may not have ever gotten to explore without this story and these tend to be my favorite type of queer fiction, ones that give us a glimpse of what it is like to be a queer person within different cultures. This story definitely packs a punch and delivers such a powerful story that makes me thankful for having stumbled across it while browsing books at my library, and if you give it a read yourself, I strongly believe you will not be disappointed.