“Behind Picket Fences”: Review of Hend Hegazi’s Eye-Opening Novel
Review by: Kaighla Um Dayo It is a rare experience indeed to come across a […]
Review by: Kaighla Um Dayo
It is a rare experience indeed to come across a work of fiction written by a Muslim author that is able to convey the deep spirituality of Islam without being too heavily evangelical in its approach. Author Hend Hegazi manages this feat with ease in her novel, Behind Picket Fences.
Sharing the deeper truth behind four sets of picket fences, Hegazi manages to show us how deeply deluded we are when we assume that what we see in the lives of those around us — yes, even our closest friends– is the whole truth. She presents us with four different families in four very different circumstances and stages in life and marriage.
One couple, May and Hasan, have a beautiful marriage and a healthy family life in this little subdivision. They are practicing Muslims who draw their strength from their dedication to Allah, both as individuals and as a couple. But Allah has plans for them they never imagined coming and challenges the reader is not sure they will overcome.
Mariam and Morgan are also a God-fearing family, though not specifically Muslim. They are blessed with healthy children and a humble home, but Morgan is always seeking better, his envy being his worst characteristic while Mariam works to care for her family and see the beauty in her simple life.
What Mariam and Morgan have, Sidra and Farris lack. While they are blessed with much in the way of material gain, there is something amiss. Hegazi leaves us in suspense throughout the book, turning corners and finding new evidence with each chapter on this interesting couple. Though a dedicated Christian, it’s unclear just how dedicated Sidra is to her husband Farris.
Rounding out the couples is Summer and Porter, a non-Muslim, non-religious newlywed couple. Summer, an artist and a free spirit, has found her art lacking in passion and herself unable to sell paintings when a mysterious stranger comes into her life offering a unique opportunity. Porter is a dedicated husband, a business-minded man, who supports his wife’s art but wishes she would be more practical.
Hegazi presents well-rounded, deep characters in this short book, telling us as much as possible about each couple and each individual to give us a clear understanding of the unique blessings and challenges they face. Her use of short, concise chapters leaves you feeling excited to find out the next move of each couple. Being a predominantly non-fiction writer and reader myself, I was able to read this book in the span of about 3 days, without ever feeling bored or tired of the plot-line.
An Example for Divorcées
Without giving away too much, one of the couples ends up choosing the path of divorce, and it’s anything but amicable. However, the wife and husband each handle their divorce differently, one turning to God and nearness to Him for strength, dedicated to continuing to raise her children with the moral ground and spirituality she began with, while the husband chooses to find his solace in less-than-halaal ways.
The example set by this woman in dealing with the prospect of ending her marriage is one we should all attempt to follow. As far as her ex-husband falls away from God, she does not allow it to drag her down, nor does she attempt to return wrong for wrong. She remains mature and classy in the face of his poor character choices, and it is clear her first priority is the well-being of her children, come what may.
She does not try to keep her children away from their father out of spite, and in fact only decides to keep them with her during his time when she sees they are in real danger. She always keeps the offer open for him to come to her home to see the children whenever he would like to. Then, when she sees that her ex-husband has showed en effort to change his ways, she immediately agrees to sending her children to his apartment, knowing deeply that their relationship with their father is as important for their maturity and growth as their relationship with her.
She makes sure to keep their conversations focused on what is best for the children, rather than bickering over how and why their marriage fell apart. When her ex-husband tries to take the conversation to that arena, she immediately refocuses on the topic at hand without being threatening or rude. Her firm refusal to argue with him about things is really an example to follow.
Hend Hegazi offers us an honest, realistic look at what is really happening behind-the-scenes and pushes us to reconsider our assumptions in real life. By presenting these characters in all the many different situations they find themselves in, the common theme emerges: those who seek solace in nearness to God (whatever religion they practice) find peace and an ability to move forward into their future, while those who wallow in their pain and anger find themselves lost and empty.
One never gets the feeling while reading this book, however, that Hegazi is trying to push Islam onto the reader, nor that any of the Muslim characters are pushing Islam onto the others. She presents the deep, spiritual truths of Islam in easy-to-swallow ways that make the reader feel curious about the connection to God we see in the lives of the characters who are content with the life they’ve been dealt.
I recommend this read to any and all people who seek a deeper connection to Allah through all the problems and practical issues life presents us with, as well as anyone who is going through the stress of divorce and separation and seeks reprieve. I look forward to Hegazi’s later works with excitement and hope, inshaAllah.
(Editor’s Note: This book was freely given and the review was freely written. The author was not paid to write this review.)
Kaighla Um Dayo is a writer, blogger, and podcaster. She is the Content Manager & Editor here at my-iddah.com/divorce. With her friend Theresa Corbin, she ruminates on life as a Muslim American at islamwich.com. She is a regular contributor on AboutIslam, writing about spirituality. Her favorite things are meditation, painting, drinking tea, and being outside in nature.
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