By Ilerioluwa Olatunde
Now, I wonder if I should have tried harder to hold unto what we had. And if there was anything left to fight for, even now….” Rekiya & Z, page 60.
I recently watched a popular South Korean TV series, Vincenzo, at the suggestion of a colleague. There were valuable lessons and quotes on friendship I got from the series. For example, during the scene where Cha Young was saying goodbye to Vincenzo at the airport, I found a quote akin to Aristotle’s description of true friendship. What is a friend? Aristotle said, “A single soul dwelling in two bodies.” This implies an intimate relationship based on trust, support, empathy, and understanding. Indeed, these are aspects of life that we long for.
Rekiya & Z, recently joint-crowned the 2022 winner of the SprinNG Women Authors Prize winner, embodies the power of friendship, love, and family. Muti’ah Badruddeen’s, Rekiya & Z is an African Muslim women's fiction that explores the friendship between Rekiya and Zaynunah (Z). It also boldly explores themes such as faith, loss, grief, family, healing, sexual assault, trauma, marriage, and motherhood. Whenever I took a break at work, I always had Rekiya & Zaynunah in my hands, as I was deeply invested in the story. All thanks to the captivating storytelling and the author's ability to weave a complex range of themes into an engaging read, addressing these themes without losing the essence of the message and characters.
Another striking thing about the book that makes it compelling is how the author captivatingly narrates the story by alternating between the past and present from the characters' points of view in the first person narrative. The result is excellent character development and background details of the characters, which contribute to the book’s pleasant pace and engaging plot. Also, Muti’ah’s writing catches the eye with her ability to employ multiple Points of View excellently. This style allows for establishing distinct narrative voices that set the main characters apart and highlight their thoughts and reflections. This is necessary as the experience and secrets unique to each woman and their family would not be as compelling without their perspectives.
Rekiya & Zaynunah met as teenagers in Noorah, a friction girls-only Muslim secondary school in Ibadan, and became friends when Rekiya innocently walked in on Zaynunah crying. Their friendship made me remember the general law of attraction and repulsion between magnetic poles. Rekiya & Z’s friendship follows the notion that unlike poles attract each other, or how do we explain the friendship between two girls with different backgrounds, personalities, and circumstances? Rekiya, privileged and popular, is the unacknowledged daughter of one of the wealthiest businessmen in the country and a product of an inter-tribal and inter-religious secret marriage. Zaynunah, on the other hand, is a pious, authentic girl from a modest Muslim home and a large extended family.
In hindsight, I think it was our glaring difference that compelled us together – Rekiya, (Rekiya & Z), Page 22.
In time, the two girls became best friends and sisters until Rekiya's wealthy and absent father insisted she further her studies after secondary school abroad. This affected Rekiya’s friendship with Z and her relationship with Z’s family. Several years later, Rekiya returns to Nigeria with a myriad of experiences and trauma. Z is now a tech-babe married with children, while Rekiya is a budding finance professional. The question is, will the death of a loved one be enough to force them to rekindle their friendship lost beneath years of estrangement, loss, and trauma?
Rekiya & Z is divided into two parts, with the first part exploring the friendship of Rekiya & Z from their early life growing up as school girls to their lives after the fallout and reunion through a tragic event. The second part narrates Rekiya’s search for healing, identity, and faith. Rekiya faced rejection from an early age – her father left to be with his second family after a tragic incident, and when her mother married another man, she was sent to the boarding house. Coupled with other traumatic experiences, Rekiya’s journey to healing, forgiveness, and discovery was a significant highlight of the book. I love that the author explored the importance of confronting traumatic events and therapy on the healing journey. Also, I love that Rekiya's voice changes as the story progresses from being distant to becoming warm, showing her growth as a character.
Written in simple and clear language, Rekiya & Z highlights womanhood from a Muslim perspective, celebrates solid female friendships, and portrays Muslim women as strong and financially independent. The book also explores marriage and the challenges of building a home and a career through Z’s marriage. It also emphasizes the significance of communication and support in marriage.
Rekiya & Z is a page-turner, evocative and compulsive, unapologetic in its convictions, and utterly unique. These elements unfold the brilliance of the book. As a reader, I want to visualize events and feel emotions. I want to be absorbed, and I was indeed absorbed in the pages of Rekiya & Z. However, it’s a heartbreaker with an unexpected painful ending.
Overall, I am glad Rekiya had a better relationship with her mother, best friend (Z), and estranged step-brother, got a chance at love and marriage, and found her faith. Ultimately, Rekiya & Z's last pages are a reminder to live in the moment and enjoy it.
Whether these something’s are an echo of a long-lost friendship or a new beginning of a different relationship, you’ll both have to figure out. Page 61.
About the Reviewer
Olatunde Ilerioluwa is a creative writer and public speaker interested in fiction, creative nonfiction, and performance poetry. Her love for books has also influenced her book reviewing. She writes to take her readers on a journey of insight, knowledge, and excitement. Her work focuses on book reviews, lifestyle, and the human condition. She draws inspiration from the books she reads, societal issues, her personal life, interaction with others, and her relationship with God.
When she is not writing and journaling, she reads, listens to music, has fun in her head, or does research. A Karen Kingsbury book is all she needs after a stressful day. She hopes to write more and publish books.