Excerpt from A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Girl Like That

by Tanaz Bhathena

A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena X
A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2018, 384 pages
    Feb 2019, 400 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Michelle Anya Anjirbag
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Print Excerpt

During our first week here, Masa had taken us to Balad, the city's historic center, on a friend's recommendation. "It will be like traveling back in time," the friend had said. And it was. If the glittering lights and skyscrapers of the Red Sea coast were the city's ornaments, then Balad was Jeddah's ancient, beating heart, its narrow streets linked to the main shopping square like arteries. The smell of roasted coffee and salt lingered in the air like perfume: at the souk, where men chewed miswak and hawked everything from ropes of gold jewelry to leather sandals; between alleys of abandoned old Hijazi homes, where veiled women with hennaed fingernails peddled potato chips, candy, and toys. We returned home at night, carrying bits of the old city back with us in plastic bags filled with roasted almonds and Turkish delight, in the green-glass bottle of jasmine attar Masa had bought for Masi from a local perfumery. The next day, however, Masi had complained about the smell of the perfume giving her a headache and tossed the bottle into the trash. It was the sort of happy day that had never happened again.

Now, my life having ended, I watched the police officer continue to interrogate Masa, while Masi watched him from a few feet away, her face pinched with worry. The look on her face reminded me of that Syrian boy from the Red Sea Mall. The one with the curly black hair, the hooked nose, and the scar over his left eyebrow. He was the first guy I'd ever gone out with after he'd thrown me his number, scribbled on a crumpled bit of notebook paper, from behind one of those fake, overly tall palm trees inside the mall. He was also the first guy I'd skipped school for, even though I never really had a crush on him. We'd spent most of the date driving in his car, nervously looking around for the religious police. There had hardly been any conversation; his English was bad, my Arabic even worse. We'd kept smiling at each other, until even smiling became awkward. I still remembered the end of the date: the way he whipped his head around to make sure the coast was clear, the slight furrow in his forehead, the quick, nervous kiss on my cheek. I was fourteen at the time.

Next to me, Porus let out a sigh. He was getting depressed and heavy. I could feel myself being pulled down with him. I had a very bad feeling that if we floated back down, we would be shackled to the scene of the accident forever.

"Let it go, Porus," I said. "We can't return. We must move on."

I took hold of his hand.

When I was nine, a high priest at the fire temple next to Cama colony in Mumbai made us write a description of what we thought happened after we died. Even though I knew that the exercise was pointless (no one in our summer theology class at the fire temple ever had the right answers to the priest's questions), I found myself writing out two pages. It was a fun change from the endless finger snapping to ward off satanic spirits and the droning monotone of prayer that formed the background noise of most of my vacations to India.

I wrote of souls the way I imagined them, featherlight and invisible, floating upward through a layer of clouds that looked like flat white cotton, but felt cool, misty, and very wet. By the time the souls would get through the cloud covering, their earthly clothes would be soaked with moisture. Then they would pass through a sunny, heated zone that smelled like toast, and then another cold, wet layer. Hot and cold, cold and hot, until the air thinned and the sky darkened from light blue to navy to black.

I wrote of outer space. Stars everywhere in diamond pinpricks. Bright white fire crackling in the tails of the comets. Meteors falling in showers of red, orange, and blue. Colorful planets revolving around fiery suns. The souls would continue ascending through this vast, glittering space for a very long time until they reached utter darkness and their heads brushed against something that felt like a ceiling: a delicate, thinly veined membrane that tore easily with a poke of a finger. Beyond that membrane lay heaven or hell, depending on how the souls had behaved on earth.

Excerpted from A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena. Copyright © 2018 by Tanaz Bhathena. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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