The Bad Muslim Discount , the new novel by Syed M. Masood, is an emotionally searing and thought-provoking look at the experience of Muslim immigrants in the US. Why, in the 1990’s, did two families leave their home in Iran or Pakistan? Masood limns vividly the lives of two young people and their families and their quirky ways of coping.
We first meet Anvar as a 10-year-old boy reluctantly sacrificing a goat for the end of Eid-al-Adha in Karachi. Fast forward to his teens Anvar is always bested by his perfect older brother and always defeated at checkers by his loving grandmother, Naani Jaan. One day over a game she observes, “You’re caught in a zugzwang, Anvar. You have to take your turn, but anything you do will cost you pieces. There are no good options. This happens. Sometimes all you get are dark clouds. Sometimes there are no silver linings. Just make the best move you can and hope the weather will turn.” (p.89)
When Muslim fanatics threaten Anvar’s family over the Western music they are playing, his father decides to move the family to San Francisco. There Anwar goes to high school but is still bound by Muslim culture. For instance, Muslims are forbidden to go to prom. Yet lovely fellow Muslim Zuha prods him until he caves to her plan and develops tactics to make it possible – right under the nose of his mother. After college Anvar is invited to talk to the local mosque whose imam observes “Americans like to keep you entertained. It keeps kids from thinking. There is always a big game or a playoff, new music or a new show they just have to watch. Every time I feel like they’re starting to focus on spiritual matters, the material world seduces them again.” (p.160)
Safwa is first trapped at home in Iran taking care of her dying mother, then her dying brother, then by the radicals. Eventually escaping to Pakistan she and her father are just as trapped there. Safwa uses her wits and feminine wiles to get them both out. Then she is trapped still by Muslim culture and her father in a run-down apartment in San Francisco, the same one where Anvar is now living. They meet and life gets more complex.
How does the weather change so Anvar, Zuha, and Safwa each find some kind of satisfactory ending? Read it and learn – and have fun along the way.
— Submitted by Beth Bartholomew