The Girl from Foreign: A Search for Shipwrecked Ancestors, Forgotten Histories, and a Sense of Home

In this beautifully crafted memoir, a young Muslim-Christian woman travels to an insular Jewish community in India to unlock her family’s secret history

Sadia Shepard grew up in a happily complicated family just outside of Boston, Massachusetts, her father a white Protestant from Colorado and her mother a Muslim from Pakistan. It was always a joyful home, full of stories and storytellers, where the cultures and religions of both her parents were celebrated and cherished with equal enthusiasm throughout her childhood. But Sadia’s cultural legacy grew more complex when she discovered that there was one story she had never been told. Her beloved maternal grandmother was not the Muslim woman, Rahat Quraeshi, Sadia had always known her to be, but in fact was born Rachel Jacobs, a descendant of the Bene Israel, a tiny Jewish community whose members believe they are one of the Lost Tribes of Israel, shipwrecked in India two thousand years ago.

What was complicated had become downright confusing; Sadia was now intimately linked to the faiths of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity and the customs of Pakistan, India, and the United States. At her grandmother’s deathbed, Sadia promised to begin the process of filling in the missing pieces of her family’s fractured mosaic, and with the help of a Fulbright scholarship, she set off for Bombay. Sadia’s search to connect with the Bene Israel community led her to discover more about India’s tumultuous history and the haunting legacy of Partition, and she was forced to examine what it means to lose one’s place, one’s homelands, and one’s history.

Weaving together humorous tales from her crosscultural childhood with an evocative account of a small Jewish community in transition, The Girl from Foreign is Sadia’s poetic and touching attempt to reconcile with her past and help determine her futurewhen offered the choice, will she be able to decide between the religious and cultural identities that have shaped her? It is the stunningly written and unforgettably evocative story of family secrets, forgotten roots, forbidden love, and, above all, eye-opening self-discovery. Sadia

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