An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi

There is an unexplainable pain that comes with loss. The sort of loss that is avoidable, caused by a chain of events, leaves you blaming yourself, forcing the hand of fate to turn so you can undo the first event, which would subsequently undo the rest.

The story of Shadi and her family is one of loss, grieving, falling apart, and mending.

A once close-knit and loving Iranian family living in the U.S falls apart at the death of their son and brother, leaving a father who blames himself and is sick as a result of his grief, a mother who is suicidal as a result of her grief, and two young girls, each having to deal with the loss of their brother in their own way.

Shadi is the youngest daughter of this household and probably the closest to her brother and a part of thé évents that led to his death. When her brother dies, she is overwhelmed with grief and exhibits no emotion. Her sister misinterprets this as being selfish and cold, seeing her as someone who doesn’t care about anyone and doesn’t help at home. But Shadi is a shadow of herself. She also has to endure the insults and passive aggression from her supposed best friend Zahra until Zahra unfriends her- plucks her out of her life, without an explanation, not even a thought, just removed.

The loss of the brother is central to the family, but there is no communal grieving, no support from anyone. Each of them is left to wallow in their own pain. The story is mostly told from the point of view of Shadi, the youngest daughter of the household.

Throughout this book, Zahra is probably the meanest and most annoying character. She mistreats Shadi, gaslights her, and makes Shadi feel like she is nothing at every opportunity she gets. Shadi ignores all of this and sticks to Zahra until Zahra plucks her out of her life.

When Zahra first cut me out of her life, I had no idea what was happening. I didn’t understand why she’d stopped eating lunch with me, didn’t understand why she’d stopped returning my calls. She plucked me from her tree of life with such efficiency I didn’t even realize what happened until I hit the ground.
After that, I let her go. I made no demands, insisted on no explanations. Once I understood that she’d ejected me without so much as a goodbye, I’d not possessed the self-hatred necessary to beg her to stick around. Instead, I grieved quietly—in the privacy of my bedroom, on the shower.

Shadi and Ali‘s friendship is admirable. Ali is Zahra’s elder brother. I was in love with the way Ali loved Shadi. No prying, no questions asked, just loving and support. He recognized that she was burdened and all he did was hold her. Shadi, on the other hand, could not explore the feelings she had for Ali because of Zahra. She didn’t want to confirm Zahra’s fears of people getting close to her because of her brother.

Thank the universe for parents like Zahra’s, who give us a home when we need it, warm beds, and food. Who nurse us back to life and calls us their children even when they did not birth us. They were there for Shadi anytime she fell apart in school. They nursed her, parented her, and did not for once inform Shadi’s mother about it.

What I felt after reading this book is an emotion I could not and still cannot label. Between sadness and pity, this book awoke my own grief. It felt like I was reading Aftershocks all over again, but this time a telling of Shadi’s pain. The grief felt so real I could cut through it. I grieved the leaving of people we love and I empathized with Shadi . She carried the burden of guilt, thinking about all the things she could have done to avoid her brother’s dying, blaming herself for even starting the chain of events that led to his death.

If she hadn’t brought her brother’s keys to her father, then he would not have been able to drive his car out, and if he hadn’t, he would not have seen the beer, and if he hadn’t seen the beer, he would not have been angry, and her brother would not have died. Their family would not have fallen apart and they would not have been wrapped in grief.

I loved the writing style and the use of descriptive words. Tahereh describes grief in a way that’s so intense, so thick you can literally cut through the sadness.

The relevant themes explored in this book speak to the present, how we live our lives, and the struggles we face internally. It also explores one of the stereotypes that many people hold about Muslims, the generalisation that they are terrorist.

This book is emotionally saturated and and worth every second of your time.

Fav quotes

“I did not often believe in men, but I always believed in more.”

“The God I knew had no gender, no form. Islam did not accept the personification of God, did not believe in containing God. The common use of he as a pronoun was an error of translation.
There was only they, the collective we, the idea of infinity.”

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