It's actually been a couple of weeks since I read this book but somehow this is the first chance I've had to write about it which is giving me something of a late with my homework feel (self imposed, I prefer to try and get my thoughts in order whilst they're fresh). 'Kauthar' is Meike's third book and in it she continues to explore the lives of, for want of a better word, flawed women.
Flawed is for want of a better word, I've spent half an hour trying to think of another one (which is exactly why I'm not a writer). In 'Magda' it's the mother who kills her own children, even if motivated by love, in 'Clara's Daughter' it's the uncomfortable relationship between daughter and an increasingly incapacitated mother, and in 'Kauthar' we get a middle class English girl who turns first to Islam and then to something else entirely.
Lydia, who becomes Kauthar, is deeply flawed. She wants something in her life to give it meaning but has a habit of choosing things that isolate her. A secret affair with a married man, a drinking habit that might be alcoholism, her conversion to a religion that separates her from her past life, adopting a mode of dress that physically creates a barrier between her and the world, and eventually a retreat from her new religion that estranges her from her husband and leads to an extremist position.
In the end though it isn't religion that leads Kauthar/Lydia to her end but her own insecurities. She isn't isolated by a cult, isn't radicalised by extremists, she's doing these things to herself to fill a gap in her life. At first the rituals of religious observance provide a welcome framework to her life, take away the need to make difficult decisions, or even much responsibility, but Kauthar wants more than that, if all she had been after was a place in a community, a husband and family, it could have been found by staying closer to home in the first place. What she wants is glory, to be remarkable, to be perfect.
What I'm taking away from 'Kauthar' is how damaging psychological isolation can be, and how easy it is to impose it on yourself. When Lydia embarks on her unsuitable affair it puts up a barrier between herself, her family and friends. The separation from those around her continues, and as it does the chance of gaining any perspective from a peer group goes too. It's a convincing narrative of how one woman could arrive at this particular and terrible decision, it's also a discussion worth having, and not just around Islamic extremism. Ziervogel gets more and more interesting as a writer. I can't wait to see what she tackles next.