20 books of summer, 20 books of summer (2022), Affirm Press, Australia, Author, Fiction, literary fiction, Omar Sakr, Publisher, Setting, Turkey

‘Son of Sin’ by Omar Sakr

Fiction – paperback; Affirm Press; 288 pages; 2022.

Sydney-based Arab Australian Omar Sakr is a prize-winning poet who has turned his hand to novel writing.

Son of Sin, his debut published earlier this year, is an eloquent, fierce and tender coming of age story about a queer Muslim boy coming to terms with his sexuality.

Written with a poet’s eye for detail and sublime imagery, it charts Jamal Smith’s life from his mid-teens to his mid-twenties.

It reveals how Jamal, the product of a Lebanese mother and a Turkish father, spends his adolescence and early adulthood grappling with the idea of being a good Muslim while all around him he sees his extended family — a motley collection of aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents — being violent, smoking dope and getting into trouble with the law.

His unconventional upbringing creates additional challenges. Until the age of seven, he was raised by his mother’s sister (whom he still regards as his real mother), a cruel and abusive woman, and believed that his cousins were his siblings. He never really knew his father.

Bookish and gay

As an adolescent, Jamal is a square peg in a round hole. He loves books — “as long as he was reading, he was invisible” — and is sexually attracted to his male friends. He knows that both traits mark him out as different and that the latter must be hidden at all costs, for homosexuality is the “ultimate taboo” for Muslim men, something he is reminded of by family members — of both sexes — who often express anti-gay sentiments.

On top of the homophobia, Jamal must also navigate racism. He lives in the multi-cultural western suburbs of Sydney and experiences first-hand the racial profiling and vilification that people of “Middle Eastern appearance”  were subjected to following 9/11, the Cronulla race riots and, later, Trump’s Muslim ban.

When, as a young adult he drops out of university and fails to find a job he enjoys, he heads abroad to meet his estranged father. During his two years in Turkey, things begin to fall into place — he comes to learn of his family history and begins to reconcile his race and identity in the knowledge that it’s okay to not fit in.

Grace and humour

Despite these heavy subjects, Son of Sin isn’t an oppressive read; it’s written with grace and good humour and there’s a sense of hope and optimism, too. Jamal does find his tribe — his school friends are all outsiders like him from different ethnic backgrounds but have shared interests — and has sexual encounters that are tender and joyful.

As you would expect with a typical bildungsroman, there’s not much of a plot. Instead, the book is essentially a character study of an introspective young man trying to navigate his way in a world beset by prejudice, racism and complex family histories.

It seems fitting that my edition features a cover quote by Christos Tsiolkas because the book is highly reminiscent of Tsiolkas’ own work, in particular his debut novel Loaded. It shares similar themes — what it is to be a first-generation Australian of immigrant parents, hiding your homosexuality, toxic masculinity and violence — and is just as powerfully written, but it’s far less hard-hitting, nihilistic and grungy.

Fans of Michael Mohammed Ahmad’s novel The Lebs will also find a lot to like here.

This is my 5th book for #20booksofsummer 2022 edition. I bought it not long after it was published in March this year. I have heard Omar talk at a few live-streamed book events over the past couple of years and he always comes across as a deep thinker with a lot of interesting things to say. I figured his book would be more of the same. I was right.

10 thoughts on “‘Son of Sin’ by Omar Sakr”

  1. I am new to Twitter and enjoy its heated often pointless arguments. Sakr is someone I see every day. I am glad Aust.Lit is getting more diverse, and this is a book I will definitely read.

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    1. After 14 years on Twitter, I’ve abandoned it. My blog posts are automated to appear there but I no longer log on. All the UK politics and the mansplaining and all the anger wasn’t conducive to my mental health. I do not miss the doom scrolling!

      I do know that Sakr and Claire Coleman are very active on it, but I honestly don’t see the point of interacting with trolls. Twitter is the modern day equivalent of the bear pit. I’d rather not participate.

      Rant over 😆

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      1. Oh yes, I got very tired of the UK politics that some of my besties in the international blogosphere were retweeting. (I get tired of Australian besties tweeting about sport and #OldNews ScoMo too.)
        But (I can do this on a PC but not on my phone) there is an option to click ‘not interested in this tweet’ and then you can choose whether to ‘see less of” (not the same as blocking completely) either the tweeter or the person you follow. You can also block certain words such as “wordle” which nearly drove me insane until I got rid of it. Doing this has cleaned up my Twitter feed brilliantly so that I just get the stuff that interests me.

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        1. Curating my Twitter feed like this would take forever, Lisa, as I follow more than 2,O00 people 🤯 Just easier to delete and disengage. It was fab when I was living in London and wanting to connect with bookish people and be active in political (anti-Tory) commentary and to find out info quicker than mainstream news outlets (ie if there were traffic issues affecting my commute or finding out why the police helicopter was hovering over my neighbourhood etc) These days I lead a much quieter life and prefer Instagram with its lovely pictures, although the advertising on that site is becoming increasingly annoying and I’ve made my account private to stop the creepy men sending me lewd messages 🤷🏻‍♀️

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    1. That’s a great way of describing it: “a less unpleasant Tsiolkas”! Looks like it’s available in the UK on Kindle, albeit a little pricey.

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