This year, our theme is “Walk A Mile In My Shoes.” The idea that you can’t understand someone (and shouldn’t judge them) until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes is a pretty common sentiment. And research has shown that reading fiction is one way to really get such a walk going. So, that’s what we are going to do this year: use fiction (and some nonfiction when we just can’t resist) to take walks in someone’s shoes. We hope you lace up those sneakers and join our journey. For March, our theme is Faith Speaks Many Languages, and we’re profiling books with characters from a variety of religious backgrounds.
Last month, when we were looking at the issue of homelessness, we led with Lila by Marilynne Robinson. I can’t resist kicking this post off with another book from her and from the same Gilead series–Gilead. In this Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel, aging Reverend John Ames looks back on his life and family legacy in a lengthy letter to his young son. John writes about his father and grandfather, both ministers as well, and John’s own strong faith informs this meditative, powerful book throughout.
For a more contemporary book with a historical faith focus, you might also try Emma Donoghue’s Haven, which I profiled not too long ago on here. It’s the story of Irish medieval monks who try to build a monastery on a desolate island.
For family dramas, Myla Goldberg’s Bee Season focuses on the Naumanns, a devout Jewish family in Pennsylvania. The daughter Eliza has often felt overshadowed by other members of her family, but she is talented at spelling bees and has her eyes on competing nationally. Her spelling success brings her closer to her father, a cantor at their local synagogue and a student of Jewish mysticism, but the shift in family dynamics has an unexpected ripple effect on all the Naumanns.
The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf is also a family story. In this case, the Shamy family. Khadra Shamy grew up in her close-knit Syrian Muslim family in Indianapolis in the 70s. As an adult, she’s made a point of avoiding Indiana, but a job assignment sends her back home. Complications ensue. This novel is written by Mohja Kahf, who’s a comparative lit professor at the University of Arkansas.
For a unique family story with a time twist, there’s also Dara Horn’s Eternal Life. It’s about Rachel, who is tired of her life. And not just tired in the way most people are. Rachel has been alive for 2,000 years, ever since she made a bargain to save her child’s life in Roman-occupied Jerusalem. Over the centuries, she’s experienced years of Jewish history and had numerous families that she’s outlived. Will it finally end for Rachel?
For teen readers, we also have Navdeep Singh Dhillon’s Sunny G’s Series of Rash Decisions. Sunny G is a Sikh teenager who decides to trade in his beard and turban for a more traditional American look on the night of his prom. Things do not go according to plan. . . .
Veera Hiranandani’s The Night Diary is a kid’s book set in the wake of the tumultuous partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. Twelve-year-old Nisha feels caught in the middle. Her Hindu family is forced to flee Pakistan, but her late mother was Muslim, and in her diary entries to her mom, Nisha grapples with understanding who she is and where home is.
For even smaller readers, there’s also Ibtihaj Muhammad and S. K. Ali’s The Proudest Blue. This gorgeously illustrated picture book follows 2 Muslim sisters on their first day of school.
If you’re a mystery reader, there are a number of series that feature religious protagonists. The most obvious would be Brother Cadfael (Ellis Peters’s renowned novels about a medieval monk who finds himself solving crime). And we have an ample number of the Cadfael books and movies (starring Derek Jacobi) to go around!
Sujata Massey’s Perveen Mistry focuses on Zoroastrian woman who joins her father’s law firm in 1920s Bombay (Mumbai). Perveen is one of the first female lawyers in India, and she often finds herself drawn into cases that center on women’s issues.
In Blackwater Falls, Ausma Zehanat Khan’s protagonist, Inaya Rahman, is a Muslim woman detective who finds herself drawn into a case involving missing girls in Colorado. This is the first book in a series.
Elliot Pattison’s protagonist in his Inspector Shan series is not a religious man himself. However, after losing his job as an investigator in China and surviving a work camp, Shan finds himself living in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery and being drawn into doing what he does best–solving crime. The books extensively explore Tibetan cultural, religious, and political issues.
If you’re more of a nonfiction reader than a fiction fan, try Lisa Miller’s Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife. It delves into depictions and understandings of the afterlife from religions around the world throughout history and into modern pop culture and documents Miller’s own journey to learn.
What’s your favorite book about a religious protagonist? What have you read lately that helped you walk in someone else’s shoes? Tell us in the comments! As always, please follow this link to our online library catalog for more information on any of these items or to place them on hold.