The initial story of American woman Kathryn (who marries Pakistani Muslim man Rashid) and their two children at first seems to mirror the nonfiction story of Not Without My Daughter, an account of an American woman’s involvement with an Iranian man which leads to her entrapment in the Middle East. But Beneath the Same Heaven: A Novel takes a different turn when Rashid’s father is killed by an American drone near the Afghanistan border, prompting cross-cultural family connections to fray and shatter.
Suddenly questions of grief, loyalty, and revenge are mixed into issues of terrorism, political alliances, and family relationships and duties, bringing the international arena solidly into their homes to wreak anguish and havoc on their love for one another.
It quickly becomes evident that Beneath the Same Heaven is about many things in the course of describing personal and political events; not the least of which is how love survives the greatest of family battles and clashes of cultural perception.
One doesn’t anticipate the sense of mystery that also hovers over evolving events, but it’s present from the very first lines which introduce Kathryn and Rashid’s dilemmas: “So you don’t know where he is?” the man asks, with some urgency. “What do you mean?” Kathryn answers into the phone, soap bubbles dripping off her hand into the kitchen sink. “You scheduled his off shore job. He told me he’d be gone for a week or so.” “You better call him, and find out where he’s at,” the man abruptly hangs up.
Moving back and forth in time and between countries, Beneath the Same Heaven deftly draws connections, builds (and sometimes destroys) interpersonal relationships, and crafts poignant, unexpected insights during moments of crisis: “How do you do that? Show me the world I think I knew, but upside down. Making me understand that maybe what I had thought was right and wrong isn’t so black and white.”
At many points in the story, cultural conflict leads to greater understanding and much-revised perceptions of the world; and this is one of the strengths in Beneath the Same Heaven’s approach to the process of a family’s coping with the personal impact of terrorism.
From Kathryn’s emotional transitions between love, hate, and reconciliation to a divided family and how they come to terms with life-threatening and life-changing new paradigms, Beneath the Same Heaven winds a sticky web of complex interactions through the first-person perceptions of both Rashid and Kathryn.
Twenty years later, their lives are still in flux, and readers are swept into a time-traveling ride that follows consequences and aftermaths like ripples in a lake. This sense of adaptation, change, and even surprising transformations lend Beneath the Same Heaven a delicate sense of balance and insight that will delight readers seeking strong cross-cultural connections in the course of their reading.
A powerful literary piece that excels in cultural understanding, Beneath the Same Heaven should not be missed by any reader who enjoys not just a love story, but a close inspection of evolving connections against political and social devastation.