Review: If They Come For Us: Poems by Fatima Asghar

Through poetry, author Fatimah Asghar communicates a story that blends history with autobiography. If They Comes For Us is, in part, a story identity and how that changes when faced with the strain of Partition; about family and how the meaning of the word can alter in the blink of an eye.

Filled with loss, heartbreak, diaspora, and so much emotion that can only be encapsulated by Fatimah’s own words, this book was an intense read.

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Published: 26 June 2018

Publisher: One World

Category: Poetry

Poet and co-creator of the Emmy-nominated web series “Brown Girls” captures the experience of being a Pakistani Muslim woman in contemporary America, while exploring identity, violence, and healing.

In this powerful and imaginative debut poetry collection, Fatimah Asghar nakedly captures the experiences of being a young Pakistani Muslim woman in America by braiding together personal and marginalized people’s histories. After being orphaned as a young girl, Asghar grapples with coming-of-age as a woman without the guidance of a mother, questions of sexuality and race, and navigating a world that put a target on her back. Asghar’s poems at once bear anguish, joy, vulnerability, and compassion, while exploring the many facets of violence: how it persists within us, how it is inherited across generations, and how it manifests in our relationships with friends and family, and in our own understanding of identity. Using experimental forms and a mix of lyrical and brash language, Asghar confronts her own understanding of identity and place and belonging.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

CW: genocide, rape, domestic abuse

Much of the work within this volume was strong and clearly conveyed. There were times when it was difficult to read, given the subject matter, but knowing what the author was writing about, I had a fair amount of expectation of this going in.

 

A life. Alive. I promise.

 

There were times that overwhelming feelings of sadness came over me reading the book, considering quotes like the one above. Something so ordinary, a life, to wish for and yes something a staggering amount of people, women especially, will be unable to make come true. The harsh realities If They Come For Us reminds the reader of, not just of the events in this book but of the continuing realities of the world, are hard hitting.

 

Every year we call them something new: British. Sikhs. Hindus. Indians. Americans. Terrorists.

 

It’s ceaseless, this terror that consumes her people. When one form falls, another rises to murder women and children, to leave corpses untended by ritual to guide them on past this mortal life. It’s horrifying as a reading experience, much less a way of life.

 

you’re kashmiri until they burn your home. take your orchards. stake a different flag.

 

Who are you when you’re forced from your home, when people come and tear it to pieces and claim it to be new lands? When identities are stolen and ground to dust beneath your feet as you’re forced to leave and move who knows where? When someone decides its time for you to be something else and new, arbitrary borders are drawn? Traditions taken and twisted until they’re no longer familiar.

Reading these experiences left a hollow, pit feeling alongside what understanding I had. Some of these poems were harder to comprehend not because of subject matter, I don’t think, but because the phraseology used didn’t really make sense to me. However, what I did like, most of the first half and a bit at the end made me believe that I’d recommend this.

The depths of Fatimah’s writing and experience, the history written about in this volume of poetry, speaks to a lot of sadness, horror, but there was also a tenderness beneath all that. There was found family beneath the loss of parents, uncles and aunties. There were the women that became Aunties and helped, becoming Family, whatever anyone else might say.

 

 

 

 

 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.

All media (pictures, quotes, etc.) belong to the respective owners and are used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.

 

 

 

 

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