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In The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali, protagonist Rukhsana tries her best to balance two different lives: the one where she tries to satisfy her conservative Bengali Muslim parents and the one where she goes to parties and kisses her girlfriend, Ariana. One day, those two worlds collide when Ruhskana is suddenly whisked away by her parents to Bangladesh. Ruhskana learns that her family is attempting to cajole her into an arranged marriage to morph her into a traditional Bengali daughter. To avoid a future she doesn’t want, Ruhskana must figure out how to be true to her girlfriend and to her conservative family.
A lovely debut novel by Sabina Khan, The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali is a powerful exploration of the sometimes difficult challenge of navigating cultural identity and sexuality. Ruhksana is a charismatic, level-headed character who faces a number of emotionally charged challenges. She confronts these various conflicts with vulnerability, humor, and courage. She refuses to accept an either/or ultimatum concerning her future. Ruhksana is proud of both her Bengali culture and her queerness.
The book delves into many of the difficulties that South Asian/Muslim LGBTQ+ teenagers face, including the sense of isolation in one’s personal community and legal persecution overseas. The novel also provides a clear look at the prejudices experienced in relation to North-American communities. In response to a series of xenophobic microaggressions from her young friends and Ariana’s family, Ruhskana states, “I guess because every time I say something bad about my family, it becomes more about where I come from than just regular stuff that people go through with their parents.” Ruhskana’s journey is relatable to any teenager who has ever felt the need to defend their nationality, sexuality, and religion.
The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali
By Sabina Khan
Paperback, 9781338227017, 336 pp.