For What It's Worth

Friday, February 25, 2022

Review: An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi

From bestselling and National Book Award-nominated author Tahereh Mafi comes a stunning novel about love and loneliness, navigating the hyphen of dual identity, and reclaiming your right to joy--even when you're trapped in the amber of sorrow.

It's 2003, several months since the US officially declared war on Iraq, and the American political world has evolved. Tensions are high, hate crimes are on the rise, FBI agents are infiltrating local mosques, and the Muslim community is harassed and targeted more than ever. Shadi, who wears hijab, keeps her head down.

She's too busy drowning in her own troubles to find the time to deal with bigots.

Shadi is named for joy, but she's haunted by sorrow. Her brother is dead, her father is dying, her mother is falling apart, and her best friend has mysteriously dropped out of her life. And then, of course, there's the small matter of her heart--

It's broken.

Shadi tries to navigate her crumbling world by soldiering through, saying nothing. She devours her own pain, each day retreating farther and farther inside herself until finally, one day, everything changes.

She explodes.

An Emotion of Great Delight is a searing look into the world of a single Muslim family in the wake of 9/11. It's about a child of immigrants forging a blurry identity, falling in love, and finding hope--in the midst of a modern war.
~ Goodreads

Format: Audiobook - Narrated by Lanna Joffrey 

Source: ALC (advanced listening copy) in exchange for an honest review

This is an incredibly difficult book to review. It's more a slice of life than a complete story and it does not hand you easy to digest emotions or outcomes. 

📚 The story centers around Shadi, a young Iranian Muslim girl, in dual time lines. 2003, after the sudden death of her brother Medhi and post 9/11 as the US enters the Iraq War and in 2002, the year before Medhi's death. 

📚 I tried to read Mafi's Shatter Me series. I loved her intense, poetic, almost claustrophobic prose but at the same time it felt overwrought and gimmicky with all the strike outs, metaphors and similes. I thought contemporary might be a better match (Shatter Me was a dystopian series). 

This book was a better fit for me. You could feel yourself drowning in the depth of Shadi's sadness, again, because of Mafi's intense prose. In this case though, Shadi's life and situation is one of intense sadness so the writing style mostly worked for me. 

📚 Shadi struggles in the wake of her brothers death. Her mother suffers from severe mental illness (SPOILER: cutting), her father, whom she blames for Medhi's death, has heart problems and is dying, her sister seems to hate her and they all literally forget about, neglect or lash out at Shadi. Her former best friend, Zahra, has become her bully and she still longs for Ali, Zahra's brother, who won't seem to let her go, despite her pleas to be left alone. 

📚 The book summary says the story takes place post 9/11, in the midst of the Iraq War 2003, but it doesn't really seem to have a sense of place or time. For whatever reason, the story itself didn't convey that time period, other than when Shadi mentioned the newspaper she was reading and talked specifically about the war or the way kids treated her. Without those mentions, I could have easily felt this story was taking place right now. I don't think that's a big concern though because Shadi's issues, and sadly, the anti-Islamic sentiment is still relevant. 

📚 I think Mafi captured Shadi's grief, her family's intense anger and pain so beautifully. It was difficult to read but really well written. They have all internalized their grief in different ways and don't understand each other. They can't find their way out to heal and lash out in hurtful ways. 

📚 Where I think the story floundered some was when it focused on the former friendship with Zahra and her attraction to Ali. As in Shatter Me with Juliette, Mafi's prose starts to get overblown. It's almost as if Shadi's pain over losing Zahra and not being able to have Ali is more intense than the family drama or the political environment taking place. 

The (potential) romance threatened to take over the story. I see Ali's importance to the story, and he's wonderful, but I could never understand why he was so in love with her (that happened before this story) and they weren't as compelling as the complex family issues. 

Overall: The story of grief, mental illness, identity, toxic friendships, and love wasn't always balanced IMO.

The ending will be very frustrating to a lot of readers (there is no emotion of great delight lol) but I actually kind of loved it - at least the part with Shadi's family and her struggle with so many intense feelings at a pivotal age. I don't think Mafi's writing is for me but I'm still glad I read this one. 

I thought the audio was very good. Joffrey captured the emotions - both pain and joy, and the other characters, including the male voices, very well. 

Content warnings: I would really read them first for this book Book Trigger Warnings for AEoGD

This book is book #1 (out of 5-10) read for 2022 Audiobook Challenge hosted by Caffeinated Reviewer and That's What I'm Talking About

2022 Audiobook Challenge


  1. Sounds like a pretty powerful read. I've wanted to read her dystopian stuff for a while but didn't know about this one.

    1. Yeah, this is a very intense contemporary. Probably not for you.

      I have a difficult time with her writing style so this will most like be my last book by her.

  2. That does sound like it would be a hard book to read.

    1. It was depressing and intense without a clear cut ending. Like real life lol

  3. OOH! Perhaps a too intense {and depressing???}a read for me ... given all that is going on in the world at the moment something I can well do without. I do however appreciate that some readers will love this book. thanks for a concise, well thought through review.

    1. Yes, it's difficult to read and not what I want right now either.

      But it handled things really well so a good read for those who want to see themselves in something relatable about grief and pain.

  4. "The ending will be very frustrating to a lot of readers (there is no emotion of great delight lol)"
    😂 You have me curious about the title now!

    This review format works very well for you 👍.

    1. I'm curious about it too and I read it lol

    2. Uh...never a good sign when the title has to be explained LOL. (Unless it's a quote from something we haven't read...).

  5. Great review, this one sounds pretty intense and sad. I haven't given Tahereh Mafi's books a try yet though I do have her MG fantasy Furthermore on my TBR.

    1. She has a specific style and you either like it or you don't lol

      I liked it better in this book because the character was supposed to be intense, sad and dramatic but still, I can only take so much of it.