Bushra Rehman’s “Corona”

Bushra Rehman

by Kamini Ramdeen

Finding a good book to read can be an arduous task. There are so many different stories to sift through and get lost in. I want to read a book that not only transports me out of this world, but one that envelops me so I can not only see the words on the page, but feel them too. Finding that book is normally the greatest challenge. If you don’t have a Rincey Reads to tell you what’s a good book to pick up, then I would strongly recommend Bushra Rehman’s “Corona.” Finally a book about a Brown Girl’s experience living in Queens, NY! Where have you been my whole life, Bushra?

About the book from the author: 

“Corona” is a dark comedy about being South Asian in the United States, a poetic on-the-road adventure told from the perspective of Razia Mirza, a Pakistani woman from Corona, Queens. Razia grew up in a tight Muslim community surrounding the first Sunni masjid built in New York City. When a rebellious streak leads to her ex-communication, she decides to hit the road. “Corona” moves between Razia’s childhood in Queens and the comedic misadventures she encounters on her journey, from a Puritan Colony in Massachusetts to New York City’s bhangra music scene. With each story, we learn more about the past she’s escaping, a past which leads her to constantly travel in a spiral, always coming closer to but never quite arriving home.

“Corona” is literature brought to life through the mind of a spirited author. Rehman has created her main character, Razia Mirza, who is almost tangibly coming off the pages of the novel. Reading this compendium of everything a Brown Girl has ever been told not to do, leaves readers with their mouth half open waiting for the next adventure.

I had the chance to talk to the author about her expressive autobiographical fiction novel. Autobiographical fiction can be a tough read to convincingly accomplish so flawlessly because characters are based off of the author in some shape or form. Being that “Corona” fits into this genre, Rehman explains how much of the character is truly…

A mix of truth and fiction, but Razia is a braver, wilder version of me,” Rehman said. “The truth is, that in a world that wants women to be weak, even the strongest among us will have moments of doubt, sadness and difficulty.”

I loved spending time with her. She’s the kind of desi character I’ve always wanted to see. She’s a Pakistani who’s spent most of her life praying five times a day, reading the Quran and going to extra religious service on the weekends, all the while wearing skin-tight jeans, getting her hair feathered and falling for boys who break-dance in the schoolyard.”

As a writer, I had the power to edit out Razia’s darkest moments of self-doubt, but in the sequel to “Corona,” I’m showing more of her vulnerability.

Bushra Rehman
Bushra Rehman

Rehman explains the joys of writing the character loosely based on her.

She’s so Queens, but she’s also a closet beatnik, who dreams of hitchhiking around the country. She’s shameless, fearless and hilarious when she wants to be.”

Rehman is right, Razia is anything but weak. Razia is more than just a written character, she is really a person who we all know. She’s the traditional girl who goes to mosque, while living in a country that differs greatly from those traditions. She is living the life so many of us have, are, and will live.

Although I can imagine some folks might think she’s the symbol of the ‘devil gone wild,’ I don’t think she’s that symbol as much as she’s a real woman. I’m blessed in that many of my friends are as fearless, bold and funny as Razia.” Rehman said.

Writing a strong character who breaks cultural barriers like Razia, brings about an interesting lesson for all of us, Brown Girls. We are truly more than what we perceive, more than just the ideas that society has so soundly set aside for us.

There is one moment in the book when Razia is called besharam by a Pakistani auntie, and Razia wonders aloud if being ‘without shame’ is really such a bad thing. I realized then that it wasn’t,” Rehman said.

Then there is another moment when Razia is lamenting her romantic choices,” she said. “She wonders if she should have just chosen the more traditional path of arranged marriage. But after a moment’s thought, she says to herself, ‘It was ridiculous for me to think this way. I could only be the person I had been born to become.’ I love her self-assurance.”

“Corona” gives the world a character that will compels you to enter her life and join her on a journey of self-discovery while at the same time, you may just discover more of someone you already know, yourself.

When I asked Rehman what Brown Girls can take away from reading “Corona,” she said…

When I was writing, I had a note over my desk that said, ‘I am writing this for women like me.’ By which I meant radical young women who weren’t content to tow the line.”

Rehman leaves Brown Girls with one message…

One should never be content to be boxed into just one limiting identity.”

Next in store for Rehman is writing the sequel to “Corona.”

I’m loving writing the sequel to “Corona.” It takes place in California and it’s wild and funny. It’s also much more emotional. I think this is because I just became a mother and I’m more in touch with my heart than I’ve ever been. These days, I’m learning how to be alive again, to exist in the moment, in a three-dimensional world, the place where children live.

So, if you haven’t read “Corona,” you are truly missing out on a treat for the mind that will take you pleasantly by surprise. Thank you to Rehman for speaking with Brown Girl Magazine! Good luck with the next book, we’re waiting to read it!

Bushra Rehman
BG Trisha (left) with Bushra Rehman, BG Kamini and Sindhuri, at her book reading at the Astoria Bookshop in Astoria, NY. (Photo credit: DJ Rekha)

All images are provided by Bushra Rehman.


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