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Between Two Moons

The novel, Between Two Moons, tells many stories all at once.  There’s the coming-of-age story of 3 siblings growing up in Brooklyn.  A family story of immigrant parents raising their children in a new country while maintaining their culture and faith.  And the story of a community under surveillance by local and federal authorities.  Amira, the main character, is the voice that weaves all these stores together.    Morning Edition host Tom Kuser speaks with the creator of that voice, author Aisha Abdel Gawad.

Gawad will be the guest author at WSHU's next Join The Conversation Live Event. Register today.

Tom Kuser: The first scene of the book kind of brings all these threads together, it's the first morning of Ramadan, and Amira's family is waking up just before sunrise in their apartment in Bay Ridge, to the sounds of police raiding a cafe owned by a person identified as the Libyan across the street. And you kind of jump right into the deep end right in with both feet. Why did you make this your opening scene?

Aisha Abdel Gawad: I knew I wanted to set the book during Ramadan, which is sort of an intense time for Muslims. There's a lot of expectations, right, that you're going to purify yourself that you're going to spend time with family, you're gonna recenter and regroup. And then I wanted to sort of throw a wrench in that at the same time introducing right away this threat that the community faces from law enforcement, and a threat that's really hard to understand. So Amira wakes up and she sees the police raiding this business, but she doesn't know why. She doesn't know exactly who are these people doing the raiding and what will happen. So I sort of wanted immediately to introduce this idea that there is a lurking threat and that this Ramadan is not going to be the same.

WSHU: And of course, the title of the book between two moons references the period of Ramadan.

AAG: Yes, right because Ramadan starts by spotting the kind of thinnest crescent moon, and it ends that way too. And then of course, I think of Amira as being pulled between lots of different forces throughout the book. So there's lots of different moons, so to speak, that she is kind of stuck between.

WSHU: And through Amira, we see how fasting all day for the month impacts how she gets through her day, pretty much every day. She gets headaches, and wants to take aspirin can't do that. How does fasting drive the plot?

AAG: Fasting is, of course, a really hard physical challenge, especially for Muslims in America. I think, you know, if you're in a majority Muslim country, the whole country adapts, right, switches to the schedule of Ramadan and accommodates. And America doesn't accommodate, right? So if you have an exam and you're fasting, tough luck, if you have soccer practice, you're a teenager tough luck, you have a really important meeting at work, tough luck. So there's a really grueling physical aspect. Also, your body is going through these different sensations and it does sort of change the way you think and the way you process and I wanted to sort of explore the hardness, the difficulty of the physical challenge of Ramadan, but also the spiritual side of Ramadan.
there is this idea of a mind-body connection, and to have that explored through a teenage girl, who barely knows what her mind is thinking at times, but who actually is sort of interested in this idea of purifying the mind-body connection.

WSHU: And Amira and Lina, her sister, one of the issues they're dealing with is the surveillance that they have to endure because they live in a Muslim community in Bay Ridge, in Brooklyn. And in the midst of that setting. They are looking for acceptance from fellow New Yorkers. And there's a scene where Amira is handing out flyers or has just handed out flyers with Lina, with her sister outside a mosque. And I'm wondering if you read that passage for us, the interaction that she has while standing, essentially alone with a young police officer?

AAG: Sure.

The police officer was young and handsome. He had sweet curly black hair and blue eyes and rosy Irish cheeks. I found myself sucking in my stomach.

"Nothing", I stammered, "Just passing out some flyers."

"That's cool", he said like we were old pals. "Can I see?"

I handed him the Arabic flyer. He blinked at it.

"It's for free mammograms", I said.

"You're funny", he said.

And then he looked me up and down real obvious about it.

"You don't look Muslim", he said.

It was more reflex than courage that caused what happened next. I meant it objectively with honest curiosity, more than as a challenge. I said, "What do Muslims look like?"

The pretty cop turned instantly ugly.

"Now don't go taking offense," he said both smiling and frowning simultaneously. "It was a compliment."

And just then with perfect comic timing, Lina came sauntering out of the masjid. She was still holding her remaining flyers, but she was mostly practicing her model walk.

"Hi", she called to me raising her eyebrows at the cop standing next to me like, everything, okay?

"Don't tell me she's a Muslim too," the cop said.

Lina stopped a few feet away from us, put one hand on her hip, "100%", she said.

The cop laughed like it was the funniest joke in the world. Then he kept walking, saying, "You girls have a nice day now".

WSHU: What did you want to illustrate with that? Because there were other scenes in the book, more violence and more extreme scenes that, illustrate the same problem.

AAG: I think one of the things I was interested in exploring in that scene was a sort of phenomenon that I think, developed after 911 of categorizing Muslims into good or bad, moderate or extreme. And you sort of had to be funneled into one of those categories and to be good, you had to be not too Muslim. Right? You had to be assimilated into American norms, which means really not that committed to your faith and not visibly Muslim. And so in some ways, Amira, even though she wears hijab, she wears it in a sort of different style. You may not always know she's Muslim, you might not know that Lina is Muslim. And so they're not read as threats. They could be friendly, they could be the good ones. And I actually think that the girls really bristle against that and they really own and claim their identity, in the face of this, this interaction with this cop.

Tom has been with WSHU since 1987, after spending 15 years at college and commercial radio and television stations. He became Program Director in 1999, and has been local host of NPR’s Morning Edition since 2000.
Ann is an editor and senior content producer with WSHU, including the founding producer of the weekly talk show, The Full Story.