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The Girl from Foreign

A Search for Shipwrecked Ancestors, Forgotten Histories, and a Sense of Home

Sadia Shepard


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Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (6/30/2009)


In this beautifully crafted memoir, a young half-Muslim, half-Christian woman travels to India to connect with a tiny Jewish community and unlock her family's secret history.

Sadia Shepard grew up in a joyful, chaotic home just outside of Boston, Massachusetts, where cultures intertwined, her father a white Protestant from Colorado and her mother a Muslim from Pakistan. Her childhood was spent in a house full of stories and storytellers, where the customs and religions of both of her parents were celebrated and cherished with equal enthusiasm. But Sadia's cultural legacy grew more complex when she discovered that there was one story she had never been told. Her beloved maternal grandmother was not a Muslim like the rest of her Pakistani family, but in fact had begun her life as Rachel Jacobs, a descendant of the Bene Israel, a tiny Jewish community whose members believe that they are one of the lost tribes of Israel, shipwrecked in India two thousand years ago. This new knowledge complicated Sadia's cultural inheritance even further, intimately linking her to the faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and to the customs of India, the United States, and Pakistan.

At her grandmother's deathbed, Sadia makes a promise to begin the process of filling in the missing pieces of her family's fractured mosaic. With the help of a Fulbright Scholarship and armed with a suitcase of camera equipment, she arrives in Bombay, where she finds herself struggling to document a community in transition. Her search to connect with the Bene Israel community and understand its unique traditions brings her into contact with a cast of remarkable characters, tests her sense of self, and forces her to examine what it means to lose and seek one's place, one's homelands, and one's history. In the process, she unearths long-lost family secrets, confronts her fears of failure, and finds love in places that surprise her. Sadia beautifully weaves together the story of her grandparents' secret marriage and the haunting legacy of Partition with an evocative account of a little-known Jewish community and a young woman's search for self. The Girl from Foreign is her poetic and touching attempt to reconcile with her family's past and help determine her future. When offered the choice, will she be able to choose among the religious and cultural identities that have shaped her? It is an unforgettable story of family secrets, buried identities, lost histories, forbidden love, and, above all, eye-opening self- discovery.

Penguin Press HC, The, 9781594201516, 384pp.

Publication Date: July 31, 2008