In an evocative and beautiful way of writing, The Beauty of Your Face by author Sahar Mustafa brings to the table two different stories. Published in 2020, the novel takes two very different points of view fuse together to create a very powerful narrative. The endgame of the book? A school principal confronting a school shooter.
The Plot and Themes
During the morning prayers in the school, gunshots are heard which brings Afaf Rahman, the school principal, face-to-face with the shooter. The novel first gives the readers an insight into the past life of Afaf, who begins contemplating the course of her life that landed her in such a situation.
At ten years of age, around the 1970s, Afaf’s older sister disappears and her parents, Palestinian immigrants, are devastated, marking the beginning of the family’s self-destruction as Afaf turns to boys and her father turns to alcohol. The family struggles to maintain a decent life but turn towards spiritualism and faith after a car crash to find comfort in the Islamic Center of Greater Chicago. The family problems, however, aren’t resolved but in short flashback sequences, Mustafa narrates Afaf’s coming-of-age and celebrates the acceptance she found in the Muslim community.
Returning to the present, the story explores the motivations of the shooter and what goes on in his mind while executing his vile deed. Mustafa also includes conversations between the shooter and Afaf where she even asks him, “Tell me your pain.” The plot explores themes of redemption, introspection and the capacity of character renewal. The Beauty of Your Face has a very character-driven plot and Afaf emerging as the vibrant character that she is, given her dysfunctional family, emits hope for the readers.
The Beauty of Your Face by debut Sahar Mustafa was named the Most Anticipated Book of 2020 by Marie Claire, Bustle, Real Simple, and Literary Hub. Several readers found the vivid and insightful narration of Afaf’s past impressive. Reviews online have also praised the writing style of the author. The Arabic phrases and words used aren’t translated and the book is somewhat slow in terms of the narrative technique, but it is definitely worth readers’ time and sets the bar very high for a good novel.