A review of THE ADVENTURES OF AMINA AL-SIRAFI by Shannon Chakraborty.
The fact is, fantasy is generally not my jam. And a fantasy of epic proportions (400+ pages) is almost guaranteed to be a big “nope”. But when I started reading about the eponymous, enigmatic pirate captain of Shannon Chakraborty’s THE ADVENTURES OF AMINA AL-SIRAFI — I was immediately hooked. And within only its first few pages, the story had wrapped its tentacles around my imagination and pulled me in deep.
THE ADVENTURES OF AMINA AL-SIRAFI is written in the style of a faithful scribe taking down the true story of legendary pirate Amina al-Sirafi “in her own words,” because, as the writer says:
“…this scribe has read a great many of these accounts and taken away another lesson: that to be a woman is to have your story misremembered. Discarded. Twisted.”
This stylistic flourish also has the benefit of fun (and often funny) interjections from Amina along the way. The narrative transports the reader through space and time to the Indian Ocean during the 12th century, deftly weaving myth and historical realism into a gorgeous and engaging tapestry. And on top of all that, Amina herself is a cleverly nuanced woman with so many interesting facets that she sparkles from every angle.
When we start, Amina has already had an illustrious career as a fearsome nakhuda (pirate captain) but has not been sailing for ten years, having retired from the high seas due to the arrival of her daughter, Marjana. Then one day, Amina’s offered an opportunity for redemption and riches beyond compare. With this set-up, you won’t be surprised to discover that THE ADVENTURES OF AMINA AL-SIRAFI has all the structural hallmarks of a great heist film; getting called out of retirement for “one last job,” retrieving the beloved chariot, gathering the scattered crew, and embarking on what will almost certainly not be a “simple” mission. But THE ADVENTURES OF AMINA AL-SIRAFI is also so much more than that. It’s an exploration of identity, family, and risks worth taking, especially as Amina herself tries to reconcile her love of the sea and its dangers with her desire to keep her daughter safe:
“I’m not sure I ever stopped being a nakhudha,” I [Amina] finally replied. “Our hearts may be spoken for by those with sweet eyes, little smiles, and so very many needs, but that does not mean that which makes us us is gone. And I hope . . . part of me hopes anyway that in seeing me do this, Marjana knows more is possible. I would not want her to believe that because she was born a girl, she cannot dream.”
THE ADVENTURES OF AMINA AL-SIRAFI is a thrilling epic about what it means to pick up a dream that you set down long ago, and it’s a book you might pick up and not want to put down for a long time.
But it HERE.