The Moon in the Water by Ameena Hussein

18 March, 2010

The Moon in the Water by Ameena Hussein is another book I read during my holiday in Sri Lanka. I’ve been waiting to read her book since I first saw her at the Galle Literary Festival 2009 a year ago. What interested me about Hussein’s work is that she brings her ethnicity and religion into a literary tradition (by which I mean Sri Lankan literature in English) that is overwhelmingly Sinhala/Tamil/Burgher and Buddhist/Hindu/Christian, and I, like so many others, was ready to start reading about the experiences of a Muslim Sri Lankan.

In The Moon in the Water we meet Khadeeja who finds herself on a precipice, looking back at a past that has suddenly shifted and towards a future that no longer seems simple and certain. The eldest child in a wealthy Muslim family in Colombo, she has returned home to mourn and attend her father’s funeral, leaving behind her boyfriend in Europe where she has been working for many years. As her family deals with the aftermath of her father’s violent death, a secret is unveiled which causes Khadeeja to break down and leave home. She goes to stay in a remote part of Sri Lanka and meets Arjuna, a young Sinhalese man married to an European lady, whose impact on her life will change its course forever.

Hussein writes beautifully; her style measured and polished. This is an unconventional story, part bildungsroman and part love story, and I loved the way that she slowly unveils Khadeeja’s past together with her growing vulnerability and shaken belief. Khadeeja, who was so sure of herself and her place in society, slowly fragments and transforms into another being as she goes on her journey to find out what she and her family really mean to one another. The book’s unexpected ending left me heart-broken, but Hussein tackles the difficult issues of ethnicity, family, love and loss in a sympathetic and thoughtful way without becoming kitsch.

I now can’t wait to read her two earlier collections of short stories Fifteen and Zillij; something to look forward to when I next go to Sri Lanka. The Moon in the Water was longlisted for the 2007 Man Asian Literary Prize.

An interview with Ameena Hussein can be found here and an article here.

I read this as part of the South Asian Author Challenge.

4 Responses to “The Moon in the Water by Ameena Hussein”

  1. Nymeth Says:

    Being the reading masochist that I am, I’m always on the look out for books that make me cry. This sounds beautiful, so to the endless wishlist it goes.

  2. Vindi Says:

    I agree with your sentiments precisely. I had a couple of hmmm… moments in the book, but overall Moon in the Water was beautifully written. I have read Zillij and I think Moon in the Water is most certainly her piece de resistance in comparison.

    Definitely looking forward to you review of Zillij, your reviews are truly evocative.

    • chasing bawa Says:

      Thank you! I have so many books to read at the moment so I probably won’t be reading Zillij until next year (unless I get my dad to bring it from SL). There were some parts of the novel where I thought she was trying to put too much into the book, but I really liked her style, and you could see her characters struggling.

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