January 11, 2023

When We Were Sisters

My brother is almost eight years younger than me.

Growing up, we marked our trailposts in life together, no matter how different they were. He was in kindergarten when I became a teenager. When I left home, he was just beginning to find his independence as a precocious nine-year-old. He entered high school as I was completing my undergrad degree, and he started university when I was already starting the second job of my post-college career.

Though the moments in life were different, we went through them together—sometimes far apart from each other, but still together in spirit. He was my confidant, my advice-giver, my sparring partner, and my dear friend.

Nowadays, as adults, the markers of life blur a little bit more. The moments are less seminal, more part of the unending travels of adulthood. Still, he remains one of my closest friends, in addition to being a wonderful brother to me and an incredible uncle to my daughter. Just as we did as children, we share with each other, we trust each other, we occasionally disagree with each other, and we look out for one another. I am lucky to know him; I am lucky to have him in my family, in my life.

Unlike the protagonists of Fatimah Asghar’s When We Were Sisters, my brother and I led wonderful childhoods where we loved and cherished and cared for deeply. What we did share with the protagonists, however, was a deep sibling bond that transcended age and place and circumstance.

Ms. Asghar’s novel is an exploration of that sibling bond, of a connection that invigorates, rejuvenates, infuriates, protects, and loves. It is a story about growing up with someone who will build a inner world with you no matter what the world outside looks like. It is about finding safety in those we love, and about doing what we can to make those we love feel safe as well.

I thought of my brother often as I read Ms. Asghar’s lyrical prose: the way she crafts sentences is strong and gentle at the same time, attributes I see in my younger sibling as he wavers from stubbornness about his chosen career path, and softness in the way he cares for our aging grandmother every day.

The life of my brother and I could not be any more different than those of the main characters in When We Were Sisters, but the sisters share something my brother and I share as well: a recognition that no matter what the circumstance, we can lean on each other to persevere, to grow, and to thrive. This is a gift I do not, and will never, take for granted.

When We Were Sisters by Fatimah Asghar

→ marginalia → books