Book Review: Undivided by Patricia Raybon & Alana Raybon

A story of faith and family, Undivided is a 2015 memoir co-written by Patricia, a devout Christian mother and Alana, a Muslim convert and Patricia’s adult daughter. This book is just as much a glimpse into an intimate family therapy exercise as it is about the tension of life in an interfaith family. The challenges faced by this mother and daughter seemingly parallel the close yet sometimes strained relationship between Islam and Christianity.

The book is formatted into first person chapters, alternating between the voices of Patricia and Alana. The Raybon family was a well-educated and traditional family consisting of a loving mother and father, and two daughters (the other daughter is barely mentioned. This is a story about Patricia and Alana.) Patricia raised her girls in the church and what she describes as an elite, African-American circle. Alana was a creative girl, a dancer, who left home to study ballet in New York City. Alana’s search for her own sense of womanhood and spiritual longing lead her to explore religion, ultimately connecting deeply with Islam. After many years of discomfort, misunderstandings and relative silence about Alana’s decision, the two decide to write about their feelings and experiences in an attempt to reconnect and heal.

Alana describes her life as a busy young mom and teacher in a Muslim school, giving us a portrait of everyday life in an observant, Muslim family. Patricia, a professional writer, has a true love affair with Jesus, whom she praises constantly throughout the book.

What seemed to be unexplored was the true reason that Patricia was so hurt and concerned about Alana’s rejection of Jesus (as the Christian Messiah; as a Muslim, Alana reveres Jesus as a human prophet.) While she beautifully details church Sundays of yore and Christmases past, and fearfully confesses her concern about violent radical Islam as well as Islamaphobia in America, there seems to be something critical that remained unsaid.

As a black, Christian young mother raised by a devout mother with a traditional Black Christian experience, (similar to Patricia), what I believe goes unexpressed is that Patricia fears for Alana’s salvation. By rejecting Christ as her personal savior (using the vernacular my mother would use and I suspect Patricia would as well), Patricia fears that Alana and her children are not saved, and will not enter into God’s kingdom. The implications of this are massive. If a mother believes that her daughter and grandchildren will not reunite with the family in the afterlife and even worse, may experience an eternity in hell, that would indeed be a tragedy beyond imagination. I believe Patricia’s reserved and deliberate nature as well as her avoidance of conflict did not allow her to fully unpack these feelings onto the page. Perhaps they were too scary to commit to pen and paper.

Alana, a young woman searching for independence while taking her role as wife and mother very seriously, shows her attempts at self-determination, sometimes at her mother’s expense. I think the mother-adult daughter relationship is the trickiest relationship there is. When a young woman grows into her own belief system and role as a matriarch, she sometimes reacts to her mother’s criticisms (actual or suspected) by pushing her mother away. She needs that space to find her own way because a mother’s opinion and approval remains the most important source of approval. I know that we lead our children and are usually equals with our husbands. However, a daughter will never be able to balance power with her mother. This is what I believe goes unsaid by Alana, who focuses her writing on her love of Islam and her desire for a religious live and let live family.

Undivided paints an understated and earnest attempt to heal a relationship. With a measured pace and some poignant glimpses into religion and faith in the every day lives of others, this memoir is touching. Do not expect this book to be an exercise in comparative theology. Instead, it is about women, family and deeply human emotions.

Undivided is published by Thomas Nelson and can be found here at Amazon.com http://tinyurl.com/undividedraybon

 

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