Title: Sister of Saidnaya
Author: Rose Ann Kalister
Publisher: Boyle & Dalton
Date of Publication: 9 January 2018
“Hail Mary, full of grace. Blessed art thou
Set in a small town of Saidnaya in Syria is the story of a family in which the father Sami has just returned after a trip from America. Everyone is eager to hear his stories of America and what he has seen there. Sami is full of praises about the New World in America and the many benefits that it’s government provides to it’s citizens. As he counts every bit of what he has seen and known, his children who comprise his audience are rapt in attention. They cannot believe their ears as such a society is beyond their imagination. The amount of money that a person can make in Syria in 10 years can be made within a single year in America. But above all, in America they do not need to live under the fear of the Turks or the French. It is a land where all Christians are free.
Little Nadra feels her heart may burst with joy and hope. She does not want to be of the few siblings who may be left behind this time as her parents and a some others plan to migrate to America. She does her chores around the house well to be selected for the trip to America. “The times were influenced by the Red Scare, fear of foreigners, race
riots, and terrorist attacks.” Starting his own confectionery business in Hedley, Sami Zahir was soon becoming the face of the town for all the yummy candies he could offer. Not just that but also the fact that he became a part of the Church where he could call people to the path of God as someone who’s already seen and lived in the Holy Land.
Growing up in the New World and suffocated with the absence of her sisters, Nadra grows up amidst the loneliness and chaos of her new life in the West. She actively works in the confectionery store and blossoms into a beautiful young woman. Much against her choice, she is married off to John and together they run their own grocery and confectionery store. The novel focuses on Nadra and her development all through teenage into adulthood in this new society that is much different from the one she actually belongs too. Though Syrian immigrants are shown to be entrepreneurial and far ahead of other immigrant communities, Nadra is much like other immigrant home makers who mostly shuttle between home and their family stores and hang out with members of their own communities.
But times are hard as the land of opportunities is hit by the Great Depression and business is not as prosperous as before. They see the successful launch of a business and its downfall due to turbulent economic times. While they celebrate the joy of a new born baby boy, she also gives birth to a still born later. The story builds on through the dialogues and Kalister has worked on several short exchanges one after the other. There is frequent use of Arabic as well though mostly short phrases. The story revolves around Nadra and her four children as well as a few other characters that are introduced since the beginning. The plot is not too cluttered with many characters making the story very homely. Individual chapters are named after characters such as Aurelia, Sonia, Dowla and so on as they describe that person and their influence in Nadra’s own life and story.
The Japanese invasion of the Pearl Harbour leads to a war like situation as the characters are plunged into panic about what might happen next. They struggle through World War II and much later the dark clouds fade as the good years start to roll in. The novel weaves historical facts with the story of Nadra in and engaging manner. The story is one of a kind and highly innovative though a bit lengthy. The novel weaves about themes of immigration, naturalization and the challenges of building new lives in foreign far fetched lands but most importantly about a woman who wanted to be empowered through education and was denied. Till the very end of the novel, Nadra has a loving family and kids but feels the grief of having an incomplete education which she believes could have made her life different.