(I wanted to leave a couple of quick warnings: 1.) This is a non-SF/F book. 2.) This will most likely be a post that is heavy on religion. You have been warned.)
Imagine a young girl who is accidentally blinded in one eye by her brother who threw her an airplane. Imagine a girl who was "sexually violated" by her uncle. Imagine an entire family forced to flee from Sri Lanka to New York because of the dishonor of these two acts. Imagine that same girl and the mental and physical abuse that came from within her own family. Imagine her suicidal feelings as she is told that she must put up with it. Imagine an intelligent young woman and her reaction when she realizes that she is expected to be a housewife against her wishes. Imagine her reaction when she is told that this is what Allah wants from her. This is the story of Rifqa Bary and her conversion from Islam to Christianity. It's the story of a girl who fled for her life to escape her vengeful father once he learned of her conversion. It is the story of someone I would love for my daughters to grow up and emulate. The story is Rifqa Bary's Hiding in the Light: Why I Risked Everything to Leave Islam and Follow Jesus and it is one of the best books I've ever read.
I decided to pick this book up after I saw a live interview with Rifqa Bary at church yesterday morning. The woman impressed me. It wasn't just her story, although that is amazing enough. This woman has a presence about her. She stood in front of that entire congregation and a couple of television cameras and kept her calm, even laughing at some points. She has earned it. She's been through a lot.
Bary's story is gripping. I went through about the first one hundred and forty pages in bed before I fell asleep after a long day. I haven't been captivated by a book like this in a long time. I couldn't put it down. Thank God I don't start my new job until Wednesday. I'd have been wondering about the book all day long at work if I'd had to go there. Instead, I woke up this morning and found my page (I wasn't kidding when I said I read until I fell asleep) and knocked the rest out in about an hour this morning. To say that I was impressed would be an understatement.
Hiding in the Light starts off in Sri Lanka in the bosom of a small family with a girl who feels loved and welcomed. It follows her gradual growth and change into a young woman who is no longer at peace with her life or her family. She finds herself questioning her Islamic faith and her family who no longer cares for her after she violates her honor. It shows her need for something deeper. She doesn't want to pray in a language that she doesn't understand. She doesn't want to be forced to follow practices that she finds at odds with her life. The life required of her by her faith and her family are not fulfilling to her. She very clearly portrays her need to find something else as well as her confusion about what that could possibly be.
One day, a chance encounter at school changes her life. It leads to the awakening of faith in Christ as well as horror and fear. Rifqa knows that her family would never, could never, forgive her for abandoning the Muslim faith. It would be a stain on their honor that could never be removed. She finds her belief in Christianity deepening and her fear of discovery expanding. She takes to hiding books in her room and lying to her parents about where she goes when she leaves the house. She can't tell them she is going to church.
Bary's prose is clear and strong. Her story pushes ahead at just the right pace. You can feel her confusion and fear at points but she doesn't linger on them. You can feel her triumph at her eventual escape and the terror that goes along with it. I could not tell you how many books I've read by authors with writing careers that have lasted for longer than Bary has been alive. Very, very few of them can emote on a page the way she can. Through it all though, she comes off without sounding like a whiner. She keeps her focus on what happens next instead of the "Woe is me" factor.
No one should have to go through as much in an entire lifetime as Bary did in her first eighteen years of life. No one. Through it all though, she keeps her outlook hopeful and her faith in God. It is good that this is a biography because I'm not sure I could read a work of fiction that portrayed a character going through this much in such a short time.
Listening to her speak and reading her book not only left me amazed, it left me partially embarrassed. When Rifqa ran away from her parents' home and turned up several states away, it made national news. I had followed it at the time and then totally forgotten about it. I can't believe I had forgotten. This is a story that should never be forgotten. Rifqa Bary is an individual but she is far from the only person in a similar situation. We have to remember that and be ready to help these girls.
I meant it when I said that I hope my girls (I have three and no boys) grow up to be like Ms Bary. When they are/were little I make I ask(ed) them the following question: "What kind of person are you?" The answer I want, and I don't stop until I get it, is "Strong, proud smart and tough." My middle daughter added the word "Brave" to it. I can't help but think that Bary exemplifies all three and I plan to give this book to all of them to read once they're old enough. This one is a keeper.
Bottom Line: 5 out of 5 Baptismal Certificates
Hiding in the Light
Waterborne Press, 2015
Hiding in the Light is available for purchase here: