4 out of 4 stars
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When Talib Syed converted from a Muslim to a Christian, his parents disowned him. He left home with his wife and children to start a new life. His decision ultimately affected his descendants.
Based on a true story, The Despicable Missionary follows Talib’s granddaughter, Victoria, as she grows up in Pakistan. Ridiculed and bullied because of her religion, young Victoria struggles to make peace with the Muslim children around her. She continuously gets into fights with them, both in her village and at the school she attends. Victoria is anything but submissive, and her outbursts threaten her father’s position in the government as a peacekeeper. He sends her away to a boarding school that accepts both Muslim and Christian students. Victoria finds solace there, but her life is still full of ups and downs due to the society she lives in. Betrothed as a child to a Christian boy ten years her senior, her upcoming marriage hangs in the balance. When Pakistan’s government was later overturned by a coup in 1977, this caused unrest in the country, and religious persecution continued. Victoria was even forced to obey Pakistan’s rules when it came to wearing traditional clothes. Through all of life’s challenges, Victoria remained deeply rooted in her Christian faith.
This book was based on a true story. Annie Bradley and Julie Dass trace Victoria’s life from childhood to adulthood. What choices did Victoria make in every stage of her life? What hardships did she endure? What lessons did she learn? I strongly recommend this book to readers who want an insight into Pakistani culture and society from a young woman’s point of view. Pakistani immigrants will be able to relate to Victoria’s story the most. Religious tension between Muslims and Christians is a controversial topic, so readers should be forewarned that some of the scenarios in this book can cause emotional distress.
The most fascinating things about this book were the descriptions of Pakistani culture. The author vividly describes different aspects of life there during that era. I was surprised to learn that families in Pakistan normally dined while sitting on the floor. Some of the things they ate included chapatti cooked on a tava and biryani, a type of rice dish. Words from other languages were incorporated into the characters’ conversations. The word ‘paleed’ means ‘despicable, impure, and unclean’, and this was the word that Victoria was most often referred to by her Muslim peers.
The author shocked me by describing Pakistan’s rape culture. It was very disheartening to find out that female victims were ostracized. They were shunned by their families, friends, and religious organizations; even churches in Pakistan did not accept victims of rape. Strange yet astounding traditions to read about included the betrothal of children and arranged marriages. I liked that the author included these things because they lent credibility to the true nature of Pakistan’s society at that time.
Seeing the world through Victoria’s eyes was intriguing. I liked her spunky personality as a child. At times, I also pitied her. Victoria could not understand why people hated her because she was a Christian. Other children refused to befriend her. In one instance, she was reprimanded for drinking water that was reserved for Muslim students. Everyone around her kept telling her to forgive her bullies, but this was easier said than done. Finding no solutions to her problems led her to harm others. She went through a very dark period, and I found it hard to like her when she became a bully herself. However, it was interesting to see how Victoria developed as she transitioned into adulthood. Her faith consoled and empowered her.
I enjoyed reading The Despicable Missionary. It shines a light on Pakistan’s culture and explores religious tension between Muslims and Christians, discrimination, and forgiveness. Through Victoria’s life story, the book gives a voice to marginalized young women like her. Therefore, it deserves 4 out of 4 stars. There was nothing that I disliked about the book. The language used was very easy to follow, and the book seemed professionally edited because there were only a few minor errors.
The Despicable Missionary
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