Ask Me No Questions Summary

Marina Budhos

Ask Me No Questions

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Ask Me No Questions Summary

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Marina Budhos’ 2007 novel Ask Me No Questions tells the story of a family of immigrants from Bangladesh and the difficulties they face in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Before the events of that day, immigrants such as the Hossain family went largely unnoticed. Now, however, they are all looked at as potential terrorist threats to America. Due to changes in immigration policies, many undocumented Muslim immigrants face deportation or prison. At the onset of the novel the family hopes to seek asylum in Canada but find that too many have already done so before them. Further, Abba, the father, is arrested because his visa has expired. Daughter Nadira serves as the first person narrator as well as a bridge of sorts between two cultures and two times. While she is a Bangladeshi Muslim, she was for the most part raised in America. She observes the treatment of and attitudes towards her family both before and after September 11th.

Once the Hossain family is refused asylum in Canada and Abba is arrested due to his visa issues,Nadira and her sister Aisha are sent back to Queen, a borough of New York City, to return to school. Aisha, the elder of the two, tells Nadira that it is important that they pull together but Nadira is reluctant, having always been envious of her sister. When they get back to school, Aisha learns that her teacher, Mr. Friedlander has set up an interview for her at Barnard College, a prestigious women’s college in Manhattan. The girls’ uncle, referred to as “Uncle” tells Nadira that simply becoming legal immigrants will do nothing to change the way people now look at their race. When Nadira finds out that Aisha could be valedictorian of her class,Nadira tells her it really means nothing since they will probably not be able to stay in the country. Nadira softens when she sees that she made Aisha cry and they find out that Abba is now being accused of being involved with a terrorist cell, solely based on his donation to a certain mosque.

The sisters visit a lawyer named Mr. Rashid who informs them that all they can do is wait to see what will happen. At this point, Aisha tells her sister that it is up to them to handle the situation on their own, although Nadira does not believe they will be able to. Nadira comes to realize that Aisha is likely the only other person she can relate to and decides that they can work together to help their father. They write a letter to an immigration official explaining their father’s work ethic and explaining that the $3,000 he gave to the mosque was money he had saved for the sisters’ college tuition.Adding to the family turmoil, Uncle is arrested by the police because of his own expired visa. Aisha is unable to convince the authorities to release him and becomes depressed. Her state worsens when there is no response to the letter they sent in support of their father. Aisha’s behavior becomes erratic and she isolates herself from her friends.

Eventually, Uncle is released and tells his daughter Taslima about his humiliating experience in custody. Nadira goes with Aisha to her interview at Barnard. While Aisha is at her interview, Nadira meets an Asian American girl, and their conversation convinces Nadira that she that she too might one day attend college. Back at the high school, however, Nadira learns from Mr. Friedlander that Aisha skipped her interview at the college. When questioned by Nadira, Aisha explains that she was too afraid to attend the interview. Maybe, the less she wants, the less she can be hurt by others.

As Abba’s initial hearing approaches, Nadira finds that Abba’s name was misspelled in some official documents. Perhaps this is simply a case of mistaken identity. But Nadira doesn’t know if this discrepancy it is significant enough to free him. She thinks of obtaining a false ID from a boy at school, but remembering that her father always encouraged her to make good choices, decides not to do so. Nadira travels by bus to attend Abba’s preliminary hearing. Abba is released from custody and told that Immigration court will hear the family’s appeal for residency. Abba sees no future in America and Aisha concurs. She throws away her college acceptance letters, feeling that even though the family has been scheduled for a hearing, they will not be able to remain in the country. Nadira tries to convince her sister that she should not be so concerned with blending in but rather should try to make others notice her. They share their situation with Mr. Friedlander.

During her valedictorian speech, Aisha speaks of her family’s struggles and reveals that she is an undocumented immigrant. She tells her fellow graduates that she only wants the same thing they do: a future. At his next hearing, Abba is given permission to refile the necessary paperwork and the judge tells him it will be processed and accepted. In a review of Ask Me No Questions, Publishers Weekly said, “The message drives the story here; the motivations of the characters are not always clear, and the ending may strike some as a bit tidy. But the events of the novel are powerful enough to engage readers’ attention and will make them pause to consider the effects of a legal practice that preys on prejudice and fear.”