Hassib’s novel shines as one of the finest explorations of identity, religion, and culture in modern American literature. Her background leaves her particularly well situated to develop these themes ... brilliantly illuminates the complications of our world: the clash of religious beliefs, the uneven division of wealth, our classist snobbery, the failure of our best intentions. Yet the story is not simply an examination of problems. It is also a fervent illustration of the strength and beauty of familial bonds, ties that persist even after death.
...the most distressing element of Hassib’s novel is not the forbidden relationships, the knotty family dynamics or even the revenge-streaked story of the young suicide bomber who took Gameela with him. Rather it is the cutting analysis of how utterly exhausting it is for any one individual to try to contain multitudes. Mark’s and Rose’s stories poignantly underscore the disorientation of having various components of yourself dispersed throughout the world ... In A Pure Heart, Hassib, herself an Egyptian immigrant living in West Virginia,articulates the full-bodied chorus of Egypt’s voices ... In so doing she exposes mankind’s best and worst qualities, our universalities and differences, illuminating all the while the myriad ways in which a heart can be pure.
...a timely, sweeping tale that examines the intersection of fate and choice, the pull of culture and identity, family and love ... it’s in each of the characters’ distinct stories — and in telling them each so skillfully, so movingly — that Hassib fulfills her mission to humanize the page-one news account, and to puncture our sense of moral certainty ... that’s the artistry of this novel: Each of the characters, in turn, is at the center; and each one, in a flawed and human way, is in pursuit of their own version of purity of heart ... could a simple act of kindness have been the butterfly effect that kept him from killing nine people? We cannot know, but the point of this beautifully written story is that you’ll find yourself wondering.
Hassib is especially talented at rendering the small details of daily Egyptian life—not in some exoticized fashion but rather as a foundation on which to lay the wide variety of experiences, ideologies and aspirations of the country’s citizenry. These details, found throughout the book, shine ... What’s most impressive about A Pure Heart isn’t the central tension—how Gameela’s death comes about—but rather the novel’s meditation on the nature of multiple identities ... There is a tenderness and honesty in the way Hassib describes the relationship between the two women, and it is in this relationship that the novel is most nuanced.
... a lovely novel about the bonds of family and how religion can bring people together as well as tear them apart ... This narrative technique can be a tricky one, but Hassib structures it beautifully — while there's real suspense in the book, it's not at the expense of the characters, who are each given ample space to tell their own stories, reveal their own motivations. (This applies to the suicide bomber too; while Hassib doesn't downplay the enormity of his actions, she carefully explains the forces that led him down the destructive path he took) ... While A Pure Heart deals with religion and politics, it's essentially a family novel, and Hassib displays a keen understanding of how the relationships between spouses, siblings, and parents and children play out during times of stress ... the novel is never didactic; Hassib never moralizes or resorts to glib platitudes when discussing topics that many people instinctively avoid, and her novel is the better for it. Hassib is a perceptive writer with a real understanding of how people act — not how they ought to act — and A Pure Heart is a novel that's as honest as it is engrossing.
As Rose struggles to understand Gameela and come to grips with her husband’s role in the events that led to her death, a multifaceted look at the complicated legacies of identity, religion, and politics in Egypt after the Arab Spring emerges. Even the story of the suicide bomber is given careful consideration in this enlightening, heartrending novel.
Hassib draws an intimate portrait of contemporary Egypt, deftly explaining the complexity of political viewpoints regarding the revolution and postrevolutionary years. Through her characters, she shows the subtle differences in class, culture, and religious belief that can cause fractures in families, marriages, and societies ... Giving a voice to everyone, even the bomber, Hassib displays empathy and compassion steeped in a deep knowledge of her subject.
Can a novel that squanders a tantalizing premise ever recover? In the case of A Pure Heart by Rajia Hassib...the answer is in the affirmative. It takes a good while, though, for this to happen ... Despite the earlier appearance of foreshadowing, Hassib veers away from either of the bounty-lined paths we glimpsed on the horizon. She chooses another trajectory entirely, leaving the reader both mystified and disappointed ... The ingenuity of Hassib’s conceit lies not so much in tracing the path Saaber took from that seemingly innocuous interview with Mark, through imprisonment, and on to self-perceived martyrdom — as a matter of fact, this attempt at retroactive tension-building works only occasionally — but in taking a lateral step into Gameela’s secretive life. Indeed, that is what rejuvenates the story. Slowly, Hassib lures the reader into its embrace all over again ... As all this happens, the story’s earlier letdown fades into the background, and the reader is both relieved and delighted that A Pure Heart redeems itself.
A devastating definition of the new normal in which revolution does not always deliver real power to institute change ... fluidly explores how even seismic historical events can mix with everyday emotions such as sibling rivalry and insecurity to concoct a potent brew.
Hassib’s impressive second novel is a fascinating depiction of sisters Rose and Gameela, their shared heritage, and the country that ultimately divides them ... Hassib seamlessly transports the reader from one culture to another, eloquently showcasing the triumphs, heartaches, and beliefs shared by the protagonists.