I was so surprised by this book, subhanAllah. I picked it up at a used bookstore and didn’t think much of it, tossed it in my bag one day as I headed out with my children’s class on a field trip and seriously didn’t want the bus ride to end I was so caught up in the book. An easy 200 page read if you are familiar with Pakistani culture, even more so if you have ties to Karachi (specifically Defense), the detail takes you to the streets and gullies you know and you want to stay and look around. If you don’t have these reference points, the book might be a bit hard to connect with, but I think the Author still gets her story across if you are willing to try (there is a glossory in the back). Beneath My Mother’s Feet is a 4.9 reading level, and because of the heavy cultural references I don’t think I would do it as a book club book, but I have already suggested it to certain students that I know will find a connection and appreciate their mothers and their opportunities in America all the more.
Nazia is a typical fourteen-year-old Pakistani girl in the large and bustling city of Karachi, Her working class family suddenly is thrown into chaos when her father gets injured at his construction job. As we learn more about her father, Nazia and the reader discover how lazy, selfish, and dishonest he is, despite Nazia’s determination to see the best in him. While the family has had hard times before, this time something more than Nazia’s mom scraping and sewing to get by is needed. As a result Nazia is pulled out of school to help her mom be a maid, masi, in wealthy families’ homes. The family eventually loses their home, and Nazia’s older brother steals all the jewelry and clothing intended for Nazia on her wedding. Her father disappears and the women of the family are left to find the strength and resources to carry on. While the cover teases the idea that Nazia is a “perfect daughter” and that she is such a “good girl” I found these to be incredibly misleading statements and pulled quotes. I think the story, shows how determined Nazia is, but not at a rebellious level, more as a girl finding her self and willing to risk it all for what she believes, a trait very much in line with her mother’s example.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I like that it shows self resilience and self reliance both from Nazia and her mom, Naseem. Nazia holds on to her friendships, her dreams, and isn’t afraid of hard work. She explores what it means to be a good daughter, good sister, good friend, and good worker. She also is emotionally sympathetic and generous to a small servant boy, all wonderful concepts to present to a 4th through 6th grade audience. I like that although Nazia isn’t terribly religious she does rely on Allah (swt) and her faith to help her endure the various hardships she encounters. Islam isn’t at the forefront, but clearly she Muslim. The book is heavily steeped in culture, the concept of a dowry, how masi’s are treated are not Islamic in the least, and unfortunately the author doesn’t articulate that it is only a cultural norm. While the women tend to be highlighted in different colors throughout the book, the men seem to be brushed over in a very negative light. On the surface it is nice to see strong women of various socio/economic spheres coming together and making decisions, but to push all the men aside as being worthless, isn’t realistic or fair. I liked the uncertainty at the end, usually I prefer books that wrap up all loose ends, but here i think it opens the door to imagine what would have happened and discuss it.
The book is remarkably clean, There is lying, but consequences are clear. There is some violence in the mistreatment of the masis, but the author shows Nazia bothered by it and it is discussed. Nazia and her friends remark at some of the cute cricket players, but nothing is done about it and it seems innocent enough.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
A reading guide by the publisher: http://www.amjedqamar.com/Reviews.html
A bit about the author and where the story idea came from: https://www.webjunction.org/content/dam/WebJunction/Documents/ohio/Beneath_My_Mothers_Feet_toolkit.pdf
Amjed Qamar’s official website: http://www.amjedqamar.com/
Interview with Amjed Qamar from A Year of Reading: