Book Review: “When Michael Met Mina” by Randa Abdel-Fattah (@MacmillanAus)

Randa Abdel-Fattah’s When Michael Met Mina opens with two teenagers meeting at a rally for refugees – standing on opposite sides.

It seems easy to immediately understand Mina’s plight.

Mina and her family fled Afghanistan after the Taliban murdered her father. She witnessed her brother’s death in a refugee camp in Pakistan before arriving in Australia by boat. Having been finally processed and released into the community, she only wants to live an ordinary life.

But there are those in Mina’s adopted country, in her neighbourhood, in her school, who demand that she and her family be grateful for their good fortune. Refugees like her are expected to abandon their memories and beliefs in order to conform to the stereotype of silent and assimilated “ethnics” on the fringe of our society.

Mina’s stepfather is falsely accused of selling halal food to fund ISIS terrorists. As a result, his restaurant is trashed, its walls stained with hateful words such as F**k Off We’re Full. His words are heart-wrenching:

“I cannot return to my homeland. And so I must simply stay in somebody else’s homeland, as an outsider and a guest. I am the guest who brings a gift of food to their host. Except what I think more and more is that they do not eat the food, they eat us here… When they don’t like the taste of us, when we have too much flavour and spice, and do not follow their recipe, we are like indigestion and they want to vomit us back to where we came from.”

In contrast, it may be difficult to appreciate Michael’s position.

Michael grew up adoring his parents, who are well-educated, white-collared, highly rational, and widely respected. They are also the founders of a political party called “Aussie Values”, whose members willingly and deliberately trashed the Afghan restaurant owned by Mina’s stepfather.

Michael’s parents claim ignorance that organisations like theirs can and sometimes do help to breed hate speech, religious discrimination and even racially based harassment and violence. He now faces a choice – either he continues to blindly adhere to their views, or he tries to explore other perspectives and make his own, independent decisions.

Both Michael’s and Mina’s parents want their children to be happy, healthy, safe and successful. Indeed, all parents want their children to have a fair and open mind, to respect others in ways that they themselves want to be respected, and to have empathy for those in need and pain. All parents aspire to be good role models, so that their children learn to contribute to society.

Really, no one wants their kids to grow up as bigots. Nor is there any kid desiring to see their parents as bigots.

Randa Abdel-Fattah’s When Michael Met Mina (Pan Macmillan Australia, 2016) won the Prize for Writing for Young Adults and the People’s Choice Award in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2017. While this thought-provoking book is suitable for teenage readers, parents may also find it informing and inspiring.

Note: This book review was originally published under the title “When world-views clash”, by Ranges Trader Star Mail, April 6, 2021, Page 10.

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