Review by Claudine Yip
Amulet Books, May 2020
272 pages, hardcover, $22.99 CAD, 978-1-4197-4083-1
Ages 8-12, Grades 3-7
Middle Grade, Contemporary Realism
Aya stood shoulder to shoulder with Hana, her breath catching with sheer delight at the row after row of people lined up to pray.
At one point in the prayer, most of the congregation folded their hands and rested them across their stomachs, as was Sunni custom. Aya left her hands at her sides and caught sight of several other people in the room doing the same. Hana was right. This was a mixed community, and it truly did not matter whose hands were folded and whose hands were straight when everyone’s lips moved in sync reciting the words to the same prayers; when everyone bowed at the exact same moment; and when everyone’s hearts were so warm.
Festivities! Food! Family! Eid has it all.
The anthology Once Upon an Eid celebrates the Muslim holiday of Eid. With fifteen globe-spanning stories from Malaysia, Australia, Greece, San Francisco, Toronto, and more, Once Upon an Eid encompasses the joy that the holiday brings twice a year following Ramadan, and the familial bonds that help make the day special.
Most celebrations aren’t complete without a feast, but food is especially significant for Eid because it marks the end of a month of fasting. A meal becomes a privilege that is savoured alongside Eid prayer. Several stories in this anthology give us a taste of how significant food is to Islamic culture, and to the families who create their own traditions to commemorate their personal devotion to Allah.
As indicated by their titles, several short stories put food at their centre, and many of the rest still manage to sprinkle in a scrumptious mention of the day’s meal. Some revel in community and include a feast for an entire extended family, or a potluck at the local mosque’s carnival. In “Yusuf and the Great Big Brownie Mistake,” the protagonist Yusuf competes against his sister to see who can make the best Eid dessert for their hectic family gathering. Meanwhile, Huwa in “Perfect” greets the holiday with a dinner table almost overflowing with African dishes and bean pies. Humza in “The Feast of Sacrifice” helps serve his mosque a pot of bubbling korma and steaming naan. Bassem even feeds ka’ak cookies to an entire island of refugees in “Searching for Blue.”
Other stories take a quieter approach. In “Don’ut Break Tradition,” Nadia spends Eid morning walking to the local donut shop by herself to specially pick a flavour for each of her family members. Recreating a bowl of kuah lodeh and lontong for her father and brother reminds Alia in “Taste” of someone she loves, even if they can’t physically celebrate together anymore. The range of Eid meals shows how celebration can take countless forms. No method or tradition is more correct, so long as there is always family to share the plates and prayers.
Those for whom Eid is a well-loved celebration will surely find a home in these stories. And if you’re unfamiliar with Eid and its festivities, this anthology is the perfect welcome. Like the lively apartment façade that the book’s cover suggests, Once Upon an Eid provides a collection of charming windows into how a family can honour the joyous holiday. Those who enjoyed Aisha Saeed’s Amal Unbound or S.K. Ali’s Love From A to Z may leave these pages with a grumbling stomach but a heart full of Muslim love.
Claudine Yip is studying Creative Writing with an Art History minor at UBC. She is currently drafting her way through a YA contemporary novel and sporadically blogs about food as an excuse to post all the pictures she takes at bubble tea shops. Visit her at @cyieat on Instagram and @claudineyip on Twitter.