Monday 18 January 2021

Listen, Layla


Listen, Layla by Yassmin Abdel-Magied (Penguin) PB RRP $16.999 ISBN 9781760896065

Abdel-Magied is a black Muslim woman who founded Youth Without Borders at the age of 16, leading it for nine years; as well, she co-founded two other organisations, and has worked as an engineer on Australian oil rigs. She has also written a debut memoir, Yassmin’s Story, and a fiction book for younger readers, You Must Be Layla. Now she has added to her extensive curriculum vitae with this novel for readers aged 9+ years.

In Listen, Layla, the protagonist, a scholarship student, Layla, has ended the school year on a high and can’t wait to spend the holidays hanging out with her friends, and designing a prize-winning Grand Designs Tourismo invention. However, her plans are interrupted when her grandmother in Sudan falls ill and the family rush to her. The last time Layla went to Sudan she was only a young child. Now she feels torn between her work as an inventor for the competition and her family obligations. She desperately wants to go on the Special International Invention Tour (SIIT), but her father forbids it.

In Sudan, Layla experiences a conflict of loyalties, not knowing if she is still Sudaniya. She decides to help her cousins, including Ma’ab to protest in the civil unrest against the corrupt government, at the same time secretly defying her father by emailing her school with design ideas instead of visiting her grandmother in hospital.

Abdel-Magied works hard to show how children with parents born overseas, especially Muslims, are conflicted. Throughout the story, liberal use is made of Arabic words and phrases such as Inshallah (if God wills it). Layla’s best friends are Ethan and Seb who has recently come out as gay. Other friends are Chinese and Pakistani. It makes one wonder if the author is trying too hard to be politically correct. From time to time, she uses the following expressions which are difficult to interpret: ‘She kissed her (own) lips’, and ‘Janey Mack.’

To assist the reader, the book has a seven page glossary of Arabic words and phrases.

For readers interested in learning more about Muslim and Sudanese culture, this book is recommended.

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