Okay it feels obvious to say that An Emotion of Great Delight is emotional – but it’s more like that feeling of a wave crashing over you. It’s emotional, but it’s intense. Mafi is able to express this well, this depth of emotions that threatens to overwhelm. And that’s the point of this story. Keep reading this book review for my full thoughts.
It’s 2003, several months since the US officially declared war on Iraq, and the American political world has evolved. Tensions are high, hate crimes are on the rise, FBI agents are infiltrating local mosques, and the Muslim community is harassed and targeted more than ever. Shadi, who wears hijab, keeps her head down.
She’s too busy drowning in her own troubles to find the time to deal with bigots.
Shadi is named for joy, but she’s haunted by sorrow. Her brother is dead, her father is dying, her mother is falling apart, and her best friend has mysteriously dropped out of her life. And then, of course, there’s the small matter of her heart–
Shadi tries to navigate her crumbling world by soldiering through, saying nothing. She devours her own pain, each day retreating farther and farther inside herself until finally, one day, everything changes.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
TW: Islamophobia, SC panic attacks, SC self harm
From the beginning, Mafi paints a sensory picture of grief, love, and anger. An Emotion of Great Delight balances these passages of life and vibrancy, with that pain and lack of color. With the ways in a few moments your entire world can change. The way the world sees you can shift into something that feels like a parallel universe, where everyone knows the script but you. I’m not a Muslim reader so I cannot imagine how much more emotional it would be from that perspective, but being a victim of anti-Asian sentiment in 2020 that taste might give me a fraction of an insight into the world for Muslim Americans post 2011.
An Emotion of Great Delight delivers readers directly into Shadi’s life. Into her head and heart. How she’s processing the loss of her brother, her father’s fight for his life, and her mother’s mental illness. Or how she explores the wounds of her heart with her best friend deserting her, the Islamophobia around her, and the heartbreak of first love. It’s a story that reminds us the differences a year, a second, can make. Then and Now chapters fill in cracks and fissures like a sudden onslaught of the current, memories pulling us under.
At the same time, An Emotion of Great Delight examines toxic friendships and siblings. Friendships that end and devastate us, but those moments after the quake when we realize the foundation was always broken. It’s a book which refracts all these shades of complexity in Shadi’s life. At times it’s raw as the pieces of her life seem to crumble and swirl around her. Because saying goodbye to pieces of our lives, as well as making peace with others, is a difficult process.
I think my only complaint is that the book felt a bit short – even while reading. It’s unreasonable to always expect there to be all the answers or even a complete resolution. And Mafi doesn’t give her characters easy answers. But even so, I wish, towards the end especially, there had just been a little more space for all this emotional growth and weight to expand. Ultimately, if you’re looking for an incredibly raw and emotional story which is introspective, An Emotion of Great Delight is, puns aside, a delight.
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