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When We Were Sisters

On sale

6th June 2024

Price: £9.99

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Selected: Paperback / ISBN-13: 9781472157621

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‘[A] captivating, gorgeously written book’ Hala Alyan

‘A stunning accomplishment’ Safia Elhillo

‘A grief-soaked and gorgeous debut novel . . . A poet first, Asghar picks up on the themes of her debut collection If They Come for Us – partition and fragmentation, borders and bodies – and plays with space and silence on the page . . . this fragmentary form has the effect of ephemerality – much like life’ Sana Goyal, Guardian

In this heartrending, lyrical debut work of fiction, Fatimah Asghar traces the intense bond of three orphaned siblings who, after their parents die, are left to raise one another. The youngest, Kausar, grapples with the incomprehensible loss of her parents as she also charts out her own understanding of gender; Aisha, the middle sister, spars with her ‘crybaby’ younger sibling as she desperately tries to hold on to her sense of family in an impossible situation; and Noreen, the eldest, does her best in the role of sister-mother while also trying to create a life for herself, on her own terms.

As Kausar grows up, she must contend with the collision of her private and public worlds, and choose whether to remain in the life of love, sorrow and codependency she’s known or carve out a new path for herself. When We Were Sisters tenderly examines the bonds and fractures of sisterhood, names the perils of being three Muslim American girls alone against the world, and ultimately illustrates how those who’ve lost everything might still make homes in each other.


Chicago Review of Books
Longlisted for the 2022 National Book Award in Fiction, When We Were Sisters is a lyrical, emotional journey following three orphaned Muslim American siblings who are left to raise one another after their parents pass away. Poet, performer, and Emmy-nominated filmmaker Fatimah Asghar brings extreme care to every character, creating a stunning celebration of familial love
Author Asghar brings that same lyricism from her poetry collection, If They Come for Us (2018), crafting vignettes with dark but tender prose that form a striking picture of the sisters' daily lives. With minimal dialogue, these brief windows are told through the first-person observations of the youngest, Kausar, with occasional interludes from their uncle or father. A debut in fiction perfect for poetry readers, this poignant coming-of-age tale examines a girlhood torn apart by loss
Sana Goyal, Guardian 'Book of the Day'
A grief-soaked and gorgeous debut novel . . . A poet first, Asghar picks up on the themes of her debut collection If They Come for Us - partition and fragmentation, borders and bodies - and plays with space and silence on the page . . . this fragmentary form has the effect of ephemerality - much like life
WBEZ Chicago
[Asghar] gorgeously weaves the themes of grief and community, along with queerness and love, into prose that is compulsively readable and heartwrenching at the same time... Asghar's newest work lives in the minutiae of day-to-day activities. Despite the excavation of painful realities for the trio of siblings, Asghar also fills it with scenes of playful teasing, caring and attempts to claw back childhood after the death of a parent
We expect a lot from novels written by poets: a heightened sensitivity to language, brevity, a sustained sense of theme or metaphor. How wonderful when a poet's novel actually delivers. Asghar's debut, about a trio of Pakistani orphans and the sacrifices they make (or don't) to stay together after the death of their father, is a 300-pager that you can't put down - a typographically experimental work that maintains its focus on the humanity of its characters. It's educational for both its compression and its use of space on the page, but its most subversive trick is the empathy shown for the girls' guardian, their uncle: an objectionable character from virtually every angle who is still afforded three dimensions. Also in the running is the concept of orphanhood intersecting with the many Muslim immigrants who fall in and out of their orbit: 'My mind is a confusion of people who come and disappear. I can't keep track
Hanif Abdurraqib
When We Were Sisters is a beautiful, richly layered exploration of the generosity that is required to raise oneself, to raise others, to build a world where the people you love can feel safe and whole. Fatimah Asghar is an impressive writer precisely because of how she doesn't withhold tenderness, and lets it play and flourish amongst all of the brilliant lyricism, narrative sharpness, and vibrant characters who fill this incredible book
Vogue India
When We Were Sisters, is a searing portrait of grief and longing... Pop culture will have us believe that all parentless pain must be channelised into greatness in a Potter world or a Gotham City. Asghar's triumph lies in completely reclaiming identities from any such stereotypical lens... The characters in the book are not easy to understand, love or agree with. But that is what makes them instantly relatable. Our complexities are not unidirectional: we have all had experiences where we feel like we've been overlooked. Asghar shows a distinctive aptitude for translating the unsaid in our lives into emotions the characters contend with. Yet, they do it with a lyrical vulnerability that truly captures the world view of the place and the age of their characters... When We Were Sisters picks up the parts of our own selves that we have left behind over time at different places and turns, gently stitching them together in a story that makes both reader and writer whole again
Los Angeles Times
Asghar's debut shimmers with love in the midst of neglect
Julián Delgado Lopera
A spellbinding tale of three sisters in an explosion of grief and orphaned heartbreak. A fearlessly raw and heart-stopping portrait of the intimacy of violence, When We Were Sisters pulses with poetic lyricism and raw beauty. A journey into the dark crevices of childhood trauma and loneliness, Fatimah Asghar has written a truly dazzling story
Publishers Weekly
Elegant . . . Asghar's poetic sensibilities are on full display in the lyrical and oblique prose . . . and the frequent formal experimentation enlivens the text. . . The result is a creative telling of a tender coming-of-age tale
Safia Elhillo
When We Were Sisters is a stunning accomplishment in form, storytelling, and heart. This novel works language into its most jeweled form, into characters, sisters, that will stay with me for the rest of my life
Haunting . . . a knife-sharp story of . . . self-discovery
Kirkus, starred review
Compelling. . . sometimes lyrical, sometimes heartbreaking. . . skillfully crafted. . . a moving journey. An assured first novel explores the bonds and divides among three orphaned sisters
With If They Come For Us, their 2018 debut poetry collection, Fatimah Asghar established their lyrical voice as one to contend with. Now, the artist is back with their debut novel, When We Were Sisters, which channels their poetic sensibilities into a tender tale
Kajal Magazine
Focusing on the lives of three orphaned Muslim American sisters, and told from the perspective of the youngest Kausar, When We Were Sisters contends with themes of poverty, gender, and abuse. It is at once a difficult read and one that is difficult to put down... Asghar blends poetry with their storytelling to layer the narrative with historical poignancy... When We Were Sisters is a much-needed shattering of domestic myths, complication of diaspora literature, and challenge to entrenched class assumptions
Hala Alyan
In this captivating, gorgeously written book, Asghar weaves a tale of sisters in the wake of unspeakable loss. Propulsively readable and experimental in form, this is an unflinching look at family, grief and reclamation - of self and other
A beautifully written story of building new bonds through tragedy and grief