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Stranger to History: A Sons Journey through Islamic Lands Hardcover – 19 Mar 2009

3.5 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books (19 Mar. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847670717
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847670717
  • Product Dimensions: 16.4 x 3.2 x 24.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,294,729 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

'Taseer uses this intensely personal prism to spring a narrative that darts deftly between physical journey and childhood memoir. The paternal relationship he never had becomes the backbone of the book, which is all the better for it. Uncomfortable reading for Daddy, certainly, but gripping for the rest of us.' Literary Review

Book Description

An hugely engaging investigation into what it means to be a young Muslim in the twenty-first century

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The subtitle proclaims this to be a son's journey through Islamic lands, but it is so in only the very narrowest sense. A physical journey, but not the emotional or spiritual journey that the intelligent reader might look for. Rather, it reads as a blinkered and biased anti-Islamic rant by an Indian Sikh against the religion of the country of his absentee Pakistani father.

Although Taseer gives the impression that he seeks to explore Islam, the idea seems to have come to him on the basis of a tragic misunderstanding. He claims that he is muslim because he has been told (wrongly) that in the Indian subcontinent religion is patrilineal. Of course every "real" muslim knows that the most important thing taught by the very first muslim, Abraham, was the rejection of the idea of inherited religion and in its place the idea that the path of Islam is open to every human, regardless of parentage.

Even so, Taseer might yet have been a muslim, but the lie of such a claim is laid bare in the first few pages, when during his visit to the Sacred Mosque in the holy city of Mecca he fails to notice the only structure within it: the Kaaba - the single most loved and revered religious structure in the entire world. When he finally discovers it, he sees it as "nothing". It is solid, impenetrable and mute, he tells us; and its "utter poverty" expresses "cosmic contempt for the things of the world". This is not the experience of someone who is a muslim, and unfortunately other events and opinions in the book confirm that Taseer is not in any sense a muslim, other than by the fundamentally un-Islamic idea of inherited religion.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I'm slightly in awe of Taseer's style and courage in producing this very personal memoir of his journey across the Islamic world, in search of his elusive father (and maybe a bit of self-acceptance) as well as a better understanding of Islam. I'm also a little frightened that he's done all of this while only in his twenties, and very much looking forward to any future books or journalism that he produces.

I found the book fascinating, informative and very compelling reading. It hits just the right note between providing helpful background context and coherent factual description, but equally doesn't shy away from exploring personal opinion and feeling. The whole book is written very clearly and logically. Its structure follows Taseer's journey from the UK across much of the Middle East, in chronological order, interspersed with short narratives about the author's richly complex family history, memories of growing up and sense of religious and cultural identity. It's all very personal, which to my mind makes this quite a brave book.

One of its strengths is how it is able to prise out the emotive issues that make religion generally, and Islam specifically, such a loaded topic at times. Taseer has what seems like a remarkably accepting, non-judgmental approach - which doesn't mean to say that he agrees with everyone he meets, but does mean that he is able to bring a more empathetic, personal and understanding tone to topics that are often highly-charged and political.

Taseer seems acutely sensitive to the personal and emotional aspects of religion and politics. He is also able to tease out the differences between culture and religion, which often overlap to some extent.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Stranger to History is by turns enthralling and exasperating. Taseer is clearly a talented writer and his prose is stylish and polished. Yet some encounters are elongated to the point where they are tedious; others seem irrelevant. As a travelogue through the Muslim world it is inadequate. He offers us glimpses of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran, but never seems to capture a country in the way that masters of travel writing as Colin Thurbon or Paul Theroux can manage. Indeed, it sometimes seems like a string of anecdotes strung together. By their own merits, these can be fascinating - as witness his encounters with the Iranian secret police or his glimpses of Mecca - but they never feel like enough. He admits in his acknowledgements that he also travelled in Jordan, Yemen and Oman but couldn't write about those places, yet doesn't tell us why.

I was also left with a nagging sense that I couldn't trust Taseer's version of events. Early in the book he describes a `colourful Virgin train' taking him from London to Leeds; this is fine, except Virgin don't go anywhere near Leeds. A minor detail or a silly mistake, perhaps; but then you wonder where else he gets it wrong. We hear plenty about his sense of otherness as a Muslim - and yet no mention of the fact that he is engaged to the daughter of the Duke of Kent, who is 32nd in line to the British throne and the Queen's second cousin! Can you imagine a finer example of being an outsider than a Muslim marrying into the royal family?

The book works much better in his journeys through the Indian subcontinent and the way in which he details the schism between India and Pakistan.
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