I read this book in 2007, but am only just getting around to reviewing it now.
Nadira and her family are illegal Bangladeshi immigrants living in New York City. Life for the fourteen-year-old girl was pretty good, until 9/11. Now, any hope they had of becoming citizens is gone. The family’s future is uncertain, especially when Nadira’s father is arrested and detained at the Canadian border when they try to flee the country that they once hoped would welcome them with open arms, the country of their dreams that is becoming a nightmare for them and people like them.
Nadira’s responsible older sister, Aisha, basically has a complete breakdown. Her family is torn apart, and she’s scared. She’s heard horror stories. True horror stories, stories of what the American government does to Muslim immigrants, even legal ones, in these times. It’s up to Nadira to be strong and hold her family together, but what can one girl do when faced with the might of the most powerful government in the world?
This is the reality some people live with. The statue of liberty is no longer a symbol of welcome. In our fear, we’ve forgotten everything America is supposed to stand for.
Ask Me No Questions is not a particularly well-written book. It’s not bad, it just certainly not anything remarkable in that regard. The characters aren’t very fleshed-out, nothing is just very impressive, but it’s still an important book, because of the subject matter it tackles (I haven’t seen a better book dealing with this; if there is one, let me know!). This is yet another facet of the world post-9/11 that the American media and government are choosing not to show us. There’s a lot they choose not to show us. Through Nadira’s eyes, we see the fear and the uncertainty, the fear of awful things happening to people who are just trying to live a better life in a country where one of our great symbols, the statue of liberty, bears these lines out of a poem:
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
For Nadira and her family, and countless others, those words of welcome seem like a cruel joke now. Is that how we want the world to see America?
Ask Me No Questions is a moving, thought-provoking novel, and an important story of the immigrant experience post-9/11. Though it has its flaws as a novel, it’s good enough, and will have to do until someone writes something better to deal with this important issue.