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In her 2014 Lambda Literary Award nominated debut novel Corona, Bushra Rehman describes a life in vignettes; a young second-generation Pakistani woman named Razia Mirza, who is passionate, drifting, bright, and unshakably resilient. In a fine rebuke of linear chronology, Razia’s tales dart back and forth from her childhood in Corona, Queens to a wild tapestry of locations, all filled with characters both odd and entirely believable. Her adventures find her hitchhiking through Florida, navigating the Bhangra scene of New York City, working as a tour guide in a Massachusetts Puritan Colony, living with drunk anarchist Italians, and falling in love with unlikely people and places.
The scenes from Razia’s young life are wholly compelling: neighborhood children are fleshed out with a heroic kind of cruelty, families negotiate the balance of their traditions and routines with the demands of their environment, and bright, invisible lines divide each community, each family, and each person. As Razia’s story deepens, it becomes evident that she has been expelled from her community and is estranged from her family. Rehman handles the bittersweet tension within her character beautifully, allowing Razia to both run away from, and run towards, her beginnings in Corona, as though that one small borough generates enough gravitational force to pull the rest of the world into orbit around it.
One of the most remarkable aspects of this work is the delightfully self-aware absurdity present in so many of Razia’s thoughts and situations. The dialogue is fresh, the characters irrepressably vibrant and idiosyncratic, and Razia observes it all with the alert wit of one who is self-possessed, yet able to recognize the ways in which she is caught up in a net of systems, values, and inequalities that are beyond her immediate control.
While much is revealed in each vignette, Razia’s life is never confined to the text- many important events happen off-page, and are only hinted at or mentioned in passing. This gives the impression that, while Razia may be sharing part of herself with the reader, it is entirely at her own discretion- she maintains her secrets, and the reader can only hope she will divulge more.
Rehman’s book is a sharp, enthralling narrative told with as much heartache as aplomb; she takes a small borough in Queens, and from it builds a vital world pulsing with color and heat, inhabited by characters drawn with razor-like precision and a tenderness cultivated by loss.
By Bushra Rehman
Sibling Rivalry Press
Paperback, 9781937420390, 150 pp.