Review: Weil wir längst woanders sind – Rasha Khayat

Book cover: Layla’s profile.

The blurb for Weil wir längst woanders sind was intriguing. A story about a brother trying to understand his sister after growing apart. A story centered on knowing who you are.

It’s #ownvoices for Saudia Arabian, German, and multiracial representation.

The multiracial representation felt spot-on. I am not Saudia-Arabian German like Basil and his sister, but I am also multiracial and German. There was so much that I could relate to. The feeling of not belonging to any place completely. Germans saying how much better their country is then the other countries I come from. Feeling comfortable and relaxed when I’m with other multiracial people.

Another theme that I could personally identify with was that of coming back to Germany to go to a German school, after having gone to a school in a different language before then. For example, I also did not understand why children go to different schools based on how they do in tests, unlike my schools before then, where there were children who were both very good at school, very bad and the entire spectrum between them.

The writing is beautiful. Flowery descriptions are woven into the writing that focusses on the heavy topics. Arabic words are included in the speech text and flow, and are rarely translated. They are italicised.

I didn’t like the narrator character that much, because Basil knew that a girl was interested in him, and wasn’t interested in telling her that he actually doesn’t care for her that way. That really irritates me. Also, he starts violently hitting another person, and there isn’t much of a follow-up to that. Also, he mentions that his sister’s fiancé is fatter than her previous love interest. I’m not sure if this is fatantagonistic but since this is just mentioned in comparison, and it feels like he is trying to say that the previous guy was a better fit, I wasn’t a fan of this description.

Another passage that I felt was glossed over is that Basil and Layla’s father kept asking their engaged-to-another-man mother for a date before she finally agreed. This isn’t something positive, and also wouldn’t be if she wasn’t engaged and still had said no.

I wasn’t such a fan of the story style, specifically the ending. I felt like there were so many questions that were left unanswered, so many opportunities to talk that were not taken. It is an ending that allows the reader to think how recent experiences have affected Basil’s thoughts on life. However, considering that the book focusses a lot of what Basil thinks about Layla and her future, it was too open for my taste.

There is some ableism, which is not called out.

Deutsche Diversity Bücher Button

Weil wir längst woanders sind was an interesting story about what it means to belong. I was able to relate to a lot of the experiences and enjoyed that possibility. However, I wasn’t a fan of the open ending.

This review is part of the German Diverse Books project (#DeutscheDiversityBücher).

Trigger warnings: racism, ableism (not called out), death of a family member, violence.

3 stars

Have you read Wenn wir längst woanders sind? What do you think of the story?

German blurb

Layla und Basil waren immer eine untrennbare Einheit, Geschwister, die zusammengehören, zwischen die nichts kommt. Bis Layla eine Entscheidung trifft, die alles verändert und die niemand versteht: Sie beschließt zu heiraten. Einen Mann in der alten Heimat, Saudi-Arabien. Keine Entscheidung aus Liebe, sondern aus Prinzip.

›Weil wir längst woanders sind‹ erzählt die Geschichte von Basils Reise nach Jeddah zur Hochzeit seiner Schwester. Er möchte ein letztes Mal die alte Nähe spüren. Zugleich führt ihn sein Besuch mitten hinein in die eigene Vergangenheit: in den liebevoll-skurrilen Kosmos der saudischen Verwandtschaft, die in seinem »deutschen Leben« nie anwesend war und doch immer da in der Erinnerung. Was treibt Layla – eine nicht religiöse, freiheitsliebende junge Frau – dazu, sich für ein Land zu entscheiden, in dem Frauen alles andere als frei sind? Wie soll man umgehen mit einem Gefühl von Fremdheit, das unauflösbar scheint? Rasha Khayat stellt schmerzhafte Fragen. Und sie findet Antworten, die ebenso irritieren wie im Innersten berühren.

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