This is a challenging review to write, and I imagine it was a challenging book to write. Full Circle by Regina TImothy contains the story of post-9-11 America from several perspectives, highlighting that of an Iraqi woman.
Samia al-Sayyid has been a victim of circumstance more times than I can count. When Full Circle begins, she has emigrated from her native Iraq to New York in order to escape being put to death as punishment for bringing shame to her family. The source of this shame: she is pregnant and unmarried after years of being attacked and molested by her uncle. She has no family to fall back on, no friends to support her, and no resources.
Full Circle tells, in turn, not only Samia’s story but also that of her friend Susan, employer Melisa, and son Aazim. Each is individually impacted by the events of 9-11 and the war in Iraq, and each deals with the effects differently.
Timothy does a valiant job displaying various perspectives and attitudes surrounding racism, war, patriotism, and humanity in the wake of 9-11. She not only provides competing American sentiments, but she sets up their demonstration in such a way that the reader is able to understand each without undue sympathy. In all honestly, there are a few instances where some of the perspectives feel a bit shallow to me; this is not surprising given the large number of characters and perspectives. The most notable example of this is Melisa’s brother, Jeremy, who never appears directly in the story but frequently writes letters to his sister. His voice is flat and predictable. From the time he is introduced, it is obvious how his portion of the story is going to go, and it is never developed very well, in contrast with some of the other characters.
You have to know what you are getting into when you read this book. It is not lighthearted, despite the optimism which peaks through toward the end. If you grow weary watching the national news, this novel is not for you. If you want a chance to experience another perspective and examine the range of responses people have had to this time in history, then this is worth reading. It is interesting and haunting. When taken on its own merit, the story can be predictable and unexciting. However, when looking beneath the surface, Full Circle has a lot to offer. It’s a book that will make you think, if you will let it. Samia, Melisa, and Susan make an interesting trio, and their friendship despite hard circumstances is worth much consideration. I am sure a worthy research paper could be written comparing each of their circumstances and analyzing how they reach their ending.
I am not keen on the epilogue of this book; I think the story could have stood just as well with the somewhat ambiguous ending of the last chapter. However, if you like no loose ends after a book, then you will definitely appreciate the epilogue. Unfortunately, it felt a little like cheapening the lessons learned in the book by spelling them out and saying exactly where each character was after everything and how they were doing. Despite the difficulties (which, using the term “difficulties” is probably an understatement) each deals with, they emerge almost without scar. Life changes drastically, and in a short amount of time everyone is able to believe that the new way of life is better and simply move on. While this is not necessarily bad, it is unrealistic, especially as a blanket statement for all of the characters who had previously been so dynamic and unique. Bringing everything back to a variation of “everything will work out and get better if you just wait it out” is not at all helpful to those still dealing with the issues taken up in the book including the death of a loved one, missing a deployed family member, or familial betrayal. These are big topics, and throughout the book Timothy addresses them with the respect they deserve, except for in the ending.
It is obvious that this book is not for everyone. It is, however, an interesting analysis of American and foreign mindsets post-9-11. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in anthropology, recent history, or stories that make you think deeper about our own world.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.