By Mitali Chakravarty
Author: Mehded Maryam Sinclair
Publisher: The Islamic Foundation
Total number of pages: 217
Price: US$ 9.95
When Wings Expand is a novel in the epistolary technique that highlights a young girl’s battle to accept losing her mother to cancer, conquering her fears and anxieties with love and deep-rooted faith. Though the author, Mehded Maryam Sinclair, intended this to be a book that would be ‘about how fully and conscientiously practicing Muslims see and deal with their losses’ (http://productivemuslim.com/interview-with-maryam-sinclair/), her narrative has transcended the boundaries of a single faith to reach out to the hearts of all mankind.
The protagonist, as in Young Adult fiction, is a young teenager called Nur (‘sacred light’). Located in Canada, she is battling her sense of loss as her mother succumbs to cancer. With the legacy of her mother’s love and faith, Nur discovers that ‘what makes a person different is how they choose to deal with the pain’. She learns to build on her strengths, travels back to her mother’s home in Turkey and finds courage in the love that surrounds her and her family. After she returns to her home in Canada, she slowly learns to help her younger brother as well as other young cancer-afflicted patients and their families come to terms with their pain. Her journey towards recovery helps her conclude that ‘It seems life has gotten bigger, like more things are possible — it’s like pain is a smaller thing inside a much larger me.’ She exudes a sense of light and joy to sufferers around her, proving to them that after a loss wings can still expand, as does that of the butterfly coming out of a chrysalis.
The image of the chrysalis runs through the book. The body of the butterfly shrinks and the wings expand after it emerges from the pupa so that it can fly. Nur feels this is what love and faith does to sufferers. Love and faith shrinks the body of their grief so that the sufferers can grow wings and fly towards a better future.
Nur christens her diary, Buraq – the name given to the mythological creature that is said to have flown Mohammed from Mecca to Jerusalem. The diary is instrumental in helping Nur fly towards an enlightened existence. Despite its Islamic imagery, this is a novel that exceeds a single faith. It is humanistic in its outlook as faith and love are universal emotions. It also goes beyond the age barrier and can be an interesting read for any age, likeAnne Frank’s Diary.
The novel is also written in the same style as Anne Frank’s Diary or Sue Townsend’s The Secret History of Adrian Mole but it differs in that it reiterates hope and love as opposed to the darkness of Anne Frank’s diary or the humour of Adrian Mole’s journal.
That the character of Nur is created by an adult is evident. Nur is exemplary, her character, unique in its strength and outlook. She has been made strong enough to ignore peer pressure in her teens. Nur has few flaws of children of her age and she moves the reader with her patience, wisdom, love and kindness. She has the unerring ability to draw the right conclusions from the wisdom, love and support generated by her pious parents, family and friends of different faiths and nationality. However, at some point, one feels sorry for a child so devoid of child-like needs and feelings.
The story is one of kindness and healing, a good read for all, especially young adults, with its interesting plot and fluid storyline. Ms Sinclair’s years of teaching and storytelling experience shines through the fluent flow of text and her language.
Mitali Chakravarty writes essays, short stories, poetry and reviews. Her bylines have appeared in The ‘Times of India’, ‘Pioneer’, ‘Statesman’ and ‘Hindustan Times’. Her poetry has appeared as part of two anthologies, ‘In Reverie’(2016) and ‘An Anthology of Indian Poetry in English’(1984). She has a book online, ‘In the Land of Dragons’(2014, ISBN; 978-1490704333). She blogs at 432m.wordpress.com