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‘Both Haunting and Beautiful’ Skeena – a Testimonial by Bubbles McKegney

‘This incredible book is both haunting and beautiful. Fauzia Rafique writes with clarity and honesty, forcing the reader to think about elitism, racism, patriarchy, love, honour and obedience. It is told exclusively through the eyes of a Muslim woman, including her early life in Pakistan & later years in Canada. Skeena’s life affords a chilling glimpse at how easy it is to innocently fall back into like circumstances after finally escaping, at great personal cost, similar harm. I highly recommend this remarkable book by a remarkable writer.’

Bubbles McKegney
Retired teacher and book lover

Bubbles McKegney

Born in 1949 in a small town in Ontario, Bubbles McKegney graduated from the University of Waterloo with a Bachelor of Mathematics degree at the age of 19 & the following year from Althouse College of Education, Western University. She’s lived briefly in Kenya, Sweden, the United States, and Austria & has resided in Kincardine, Ontario for the past 40 years. She has been a feminist throughout her life, volunteering at the Women for Change Centre, Rape Crisis Centres and the local Women’s Shelter. An avid reader with particular sensitivity to gender issues, she juggled teaching high school and elementary school with raising two sons. Now retired, she lives with the love of her life with whom she’s been happily married for 49 years.


There is a sweet backstory to share. Sam McKegney, Associate Professor at the Department of English in Queen’s University Kingston ON, bought my novel Skeena at the 2017 Conference of Indigenous Literary Studies Association (ILSA) in Chilliwack BC, and he passed it onto his mother Bubbles, a ‘chronic’ reader who had a powerful experience reading it. She later shared her impressions with Sam. Last month, it was Bubbles’s 70th birthday and since she is not into acquiring material objects, Sam thought of giving her a present that would really make her happy. He contacted a few of her favorite authors and requested them to send video messages for the occasion. ‘Skeena is a work that has resonated for her significantly since she first read it back in 2017’, wrote Sam. And that became the reason for me to know Bubbles and to appreciate her thoughts about Skeena. In case you are curious after reading the last line of her bio above, here she is ‘with the love of her life’, Ian McKegney. Happy Birthday Bubbles!


Holier Than Life


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‘Expansive Emotive Well-paced and Realistic fictional work’ – Novel Skeena

South Asian Ensemble, a Peer-reviewed Canadian Quarterly of Arts, Literature and Culture has published a review on Skeena in Volumes 3/4 of Autumn 2011 and Winter 2012.

The book review is written by Shikha Kenneth, and it is published on pages 223-28. Kenneth acclaims Fauzia Rafique for ‘uniting various contemporary topics of interest and presenting them in the form of an expansive, emotive, well-paced and realistic fictional work’.

View complete text here:

South Asian Ensemble
A Peer-reviewed Canadian Quarterly of Arts, Literature and Culture
Vol. 3, Number 4, Autumn 2011 &
Vol. 4, Number 1, Winter 2012
ISSN 1920-6763

Pages 223-28

For South Asian Ensemble
Editor Rajesh Kumar Sharma

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‘Skeena: a contribution to thank for’ by Dr. Shuja Alhaq

It sounds great if not exotic to live in a foreign land for nearly three decades and then return with a Punjabi novel in hand. And that is precisely what Fauzia has done. Indeed Skeena speaks of her success as a writer, and of Punjabi novel, above all.

What struck me most at the outset, I may say, was the natural flow of the narrative. The form and content, the technique and the story, the language and thought – do not part company from each other at any time. The writer does not seem to be struggling to find the right word or form to speak her mind. This is not something that every writer can achieve. And if a first time author demonstrates a natural talent for it, her choice of writing as her medium of expression seems justified.

Only at the end, when Skeena declares that she has no history, no story, no name, does the spell break and one wonders whether this character was real or fictional. But this does not diminish or impinge negatively on the power of the narrative. Rather it deepens its effect, in that it forces the reader to think of the character, as to why she acted and lived as she did! Could she do it differently? Could she rebel at any point earlier in life? Or did she rebel at all?

The most evident fact about the form of the novel is its neat division into two roughly equal halves. My reading of fiction is quite limited. Still at the very start of this novel I immediately sensed that it was a new story. Of course the story of our archaic feudal structure cannot be new. But what made it a fresh perspective was its narrator, a woman. In my limited experience I had not heard the archaic story as seen and lived by a woman in our part of the Panjab and, least of all, in Punjabi, and so it was quite an encounter. Since the narrator belongs to my generation, there was a lot to relate to as the story unfolded. (Not only thematically but even in details. Comrade Petha, for instance, reminded me of Comrade Laddoo, whose great company and patronage I had the good fortune of enjoying in my youth). By the time Skeena manages to attend a meeting of the comrades, one is fully engrossed in the saga, almost feeling the terror that she must encounter by the state and the society in the not unforeseeable future.

Here, there are events and certain passages which pull the reader along to those lengths where he or she may not have intended to go in the first place. I mean, the reader is made to get involved emotionally. One such passage is on page 95 where we find Skeena lying on her belly on the floor and attempting to listen to the beat of the Dhol. The expression is really beautiful and intense. Dhol di dhamak zameen tun aina utte vi mainun labh laindi ai. Mere naseebe change ke mele di te har jumerat di rat main ainan nachdian talan te sauni aan (the resonance finds me so many feet above the ground{her room being on the first floor}. Each night of the festival, I receive this gift of falling asleep to a basic rhythm.) These three pages, 95-7, are indeed amongst the most memorable ones. But I was really enthralled from page 134 onwards. More especially, the sequence of events unleashed with the sentence magron shaiaan avde aap hon lag paiaan (after that, things began to happen on their own.) (p.146-50) are most certainly the stuff that takes one’s breath away. I think this moment is the apex of the novel. It demonstrates the great potential and possibility that a human being, apparently a naught being, contains within herself which comes to fruit when she suddenly finds herself free to act decisively. This is the moment of revolution in Skeena’a life.

Not all revolutions succeed, though. The failure of the revolution in Skeena’s life says all, for symbolically it tells the story of us all, from Bhutto to each one of us who did come to the point of pulling the trigger, but then fell back into the insurmountable logic of the whirlpool that we call the system. Fauzia’s achievement is that she has been able to tell the story through an allegory. And that takes her ahead of us all.

But that is not all. This was reality. Now the question is can she, as an artist, create that which is unreal, which is magical? Can she create a character who is free or becomes free after pulling the trigger? Fauzia might refer me to Skeena’s final release and escape from her captors to whom she was sold by her family. But that sounds like the release of a corpse. As a reader, one is little moved by it. That is not a free woman, the one Skeena’s creator apparently intends to be. So can she, if I may ask, tell her story?

These impressions, to be honest, say far less than I wish to. The reason for which is largely my limited experience of literature in general. But what one cannot fail to mention are the early years of Skeena. They impressed upon my mind the most. The portrayal of her free spirit, which very much sounds her natural spirit, a spirit endowed to her by birth, seems Fauzia’s real success: her attempts to enjoy freedom, to literally steal every moment of freedom that she can manage to grab from an otherwise miserly, oppressive society that is fearful of her, of her as a free individual. It is this inward freedom of her that makes her final confrontation with the Gang led by the maulvi appear so realistic, and therefore thrilling and inspiring. And further, her brilliant portrait of her sensitive, freedom loving childhood and adolescence brings into sharp relief the straightjacket that society seeks and succeeds in putting on her. It cannot but remind one the famous saying, ‘Woman was born free but everywhere she is in chains.‘ (An amendment to Rousseau, of course, in the light of Fauzia’s portrayal).

After this revolt, though, the interiorization of the oppression, largely through her mother, sets in. This interiorization, her determination to keep her family happy by sacrificing her free self, is as irritating to the reader as her early attempts to enjoy freedom were exciting. Once again, though, this is realistic. It demonstrates that the writer is not making things up. After all, she could have made her leave the house or elope with some one. But what she has shown is, as it seemed to me, that at this moment she (the writer) is not ready for it. And if she is not ready for it, any attempt to make Skeena overrun the walls of her parental home would have looked artificial, as most of our inqilabis are. Fauzia might certainly have appeased them, but then she would have written a pamphlet, not a novel.

I must say why I, as a reader, failed to get inspired by Skeena’s escape from her husband after ten brutal years. Because her sacrifice of her free self at her family’s alter, which means at society’s alter, was fatal. She had obeyed her mother and brother, and accepted arranged marriage. Ok. But there probably was an opportunity for her to escape once she was in Canada, and nobody would have blamed her for that. But she did not want to hurt her mother. The sacrifice was total, so one feels any hope of resurrection after that is going a bit too far.

If Skeena submitted to the brutal occupation of her husband and mother-in-law because she did not want to hurt her mother and her brother, while not being in Pakistan but in Canada (I mean where there were more opportunities to escape), then it is her decision, nay, her choosing. The arrival of the news of her mother’s demise and her escape is not a coincidence. She seems all the way waiting for her mother to be safely in the grave until she rebels. This means that it would be off the mark to place all blame, or to locate the sources of her submission wholly in the social and religious forces that shaped her life. The society has its apparatus of oppression, but in these our times, the opportunities to defy or escape have also multiplied. And if an individual happens to be of change naseebe (good fortune) to find one, her failure to avail it, on whatever pretext, is her failure, the failure of the individual. For if we hesitate to concede this, we end up in a kind of determinism that is inimical to thought and freedom. This, nevertheless, remains my view of it.

At the end, though, one must say that thanks to Skeena one can count at least one Punjabi novel (in our part of the Punjab) worth the name. It might fall short of expectations for some, but at least the prospective writer would know what she or he has to surpass. That is no small achievement. At least it goes some way towards alleviating the paucity of our poor mother tongue, or of modern Punjabi literature, to be more precise.

Written in Lahore in 2007 at the launch of Punjabi (Shahmukhi) edition of Skeena (Sanjh Publication 2007).

Dr Shuja Alhaq is a teacher of philosophy, an author, and a poet. He has lived and worked in UK and Pakistan. At this time, he teaches philosophy at the University of Multan.

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‘Skeena’- Mashraqi Te Maghrabi Tehzeeb di Awaz

‘Skeena – the Voice of eastern and western civilization’
By Fouzia Hanif
Lahore, Pakistan
Punjabi in Roman

Rab sohney ne aes jag nu wan swaney te man mohney rangaan nal sjaya te ehna rangaan nal khaiden lai manukh nu aes dunia te bhajia. Jad manukh ney aes jag te akal te Shaur dian manzalan taey keetian taan ohney jo kuj dunia wich waparda wakhia uhnu apney kalam te akhraan raheen kagaz te ulaikia taan je smaaj di islah ho sakey. Aeh kalam te akhraan nal khaiden waley manukh hi likhari sadaey. Eahna likharian wichon ik na sadey Punjab di dharti di dhi da aey jehda na Fauzia Rafique aey. Ohna adab di dunia wich bey-shumaar kam keetay. Ohna da majuda kam jehra manzrey aam te aya aey o novel “Skeena” aey.

Pakistani zananian dey likhey gaey Punjabi novelan wichon Kahkashan Malik horaan dey novel ‘Chikar Rangi Murti’ tun baad meri nazar wich eh Pakistani novel nigar zanani da ik nidar te bebak tahreer te mabni novel aey. Jehra Punjabi novel nu ban-ul-akwami padhar de novelaan wich shamal karda aey.

Jadon main eh novel parhya taan mera ji keeta ke main ahdey barey kuj likhan. Aes novel nu pahli wari parh ke inj japia jivain Skeena ne hudkushi kar laye aey taan manu bohat mayusi hoe. kunje Skeena da kirdar jis taran bayania gia aey o ik dlair te nidar kurri da kirdar aey, ohnu hudkushi nahi karni chahidi si. Baad wich merey te aey haqiqat ashqar hoe je o te budhmat mazhab de nazriay de mutabiq soch rahi si ‘Meri koe Tawarikh nahi’. Kunje Budhmat Mazhab da ik groh dhian wich jan lai aey akhar bolda aey. Jadon main jania ke Skeena zinda aey taan maino changa laga.

Aes novel de plot, kirdar, mukalamey, nazria te mahol ya manzarkashi barey gal keeti javey taan novel da plot mazboot bunyadaan te usria nazar anda aey. Ahdey sarey kirdar apni apni thaan bharpur andaz nal byaney gae ney. Par Skeena te Jeeno da kirdar ajehyan zananian nu wakhanda aey jihrian okraan wich wi apney haqaan lai lardian nazar andian ney. Novel dey mukalme barey gal keeti javey te Skeena de mukalme barrey jandar ne kunje o niki omar tun hi amrani shaur rakhdi si ohda aey mukalama mulahza howey jihdey wich o apni maan ji nu sawal puchdi nazar andi aey:
“pishley mahenay tuseen Amman Zainab nu akhiya si ke ‘purey pind wichon teri nu sab tun wad fasal liyandi pai aey, te Maan Jee, tusin Gamu nu ap puchia si ke ‘Jeeno ney taenu puter nahi dita?’ te Maan Jee Jeeno mehfoz aslon nahi, ——–”

Aes novel wich nazriati paehlu wi kabley deed ney. Ahdey wich siyasi, muashrati, jagirdari atey khas toar te mazhabi paehlu bohat jandar te khubsurat andaz nal bayania gia aey. Pae kis traan mazhab da galat istmaal kar ke zanani da istahsal keeta ja reha aey. Novel wich aey gal bohat wazia aey jo kuj muashra kisey bunde nu dainda aey, ohda radeamal zaroor sahmne anda aey. Fauzia Rafique horaan ne manzarkushi wi dadhi changi keeti jivain ke novel dey aes paragraph tun zahir hunda aey:
“Thandi wa meray mukh te khilar jandi aey, chann akhan nu hanarey de dhongey part wakhanda, khulian asmana te lejanda aey. Haithaan anabi patraan ala Japani mapal, chandi varge safaidian te totey rangian soyan aley chiran nal khalota aey. Asman saf kala shisha, wich jurey sunehri tarey. va da ik bula koasa avey, ek thanda.
“Aj gharon bahar nikalan di raat aey.”

Novel wich kidhrey kidhrey jhol wi nazar anda aey. Jivain Skeena ik zaheen, mutjasus te amrani shaur rakhan wali zanani si te ohda Gamu nu na syanana, uchey mathey waley nojwan da nuro dey bhara wangar lagna, Joynie te Maggi de kirdaraan da Skeena di Khala te Saeen Jee nal mawazna karna kuj jachia nahi. Aes novel nu parh ke qari de andar shaur de kaee part khulde ney jihrey ohnu thaley dityaan gian galaan barey soch vachar karan te majboor karde ney:
– Manafqat tun bachna
– Mazhab da bharpur mutalaa karna te mazhab da sahee istamaal
– Siyasi nazam di islah
– Zananian de Khiyalat te nazriat nu haqeeqi mania wich samjan di loarr
– Maan pu da dhian de war lubhan lagian munde barey puri taraan janch partaal karna

Novel wich kuj ajehyaan galaan wi ney jihriyan ikhlakyat de hawaley nal changian nahi. Jevain Skeena da choti omar tun hi apney bhra nu sharab pinda wakh ke sharab peena, bhang peena, raat nu apni Maan Jee te bhra tun luk ke ghar tun bahir jana te Iqbal Singh urf Gamu nal gair kanooni taaluqat wagara. Aehna sarian galaan nu sada muashra tey aseen kadi pasand nahi karaan gey par gal aey way ke jadon muashrey wich tohade apney beja pabandian laan yaan tuhade tajasus nu daban yaan tohade wastey ajehey halat bana dain jivain Skeena dey ghar wale Ihtasham da Skeena nal rawaya wi zahir karda aey. Taan koi banda kis had taak ja sakda aey, Aye gal Skeena raheen sadey sahmney andi aey.

Mukdi gal aey wey ke muashrey dey amal te hi hamesh kisay wi bundey da radeamal zahir honda aey. Aseen kisey wi kaley bandey nu ilzam nahi de sakdey.


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‘A page turner from beginning to end’ novel ‘Skeena’‏

Valerie B. -Taylor

Author Fauzia Rafique’s highly acclaimed novel ‘Skeena’ is a compelling story of a young Muslim Canadian woman’s transitional evolution which spans 30 years from the land of her birthplace to the land of her rebirth.

Skeena’s journey is set in a framework of a life of oppression caused by cultural, religious, racist, patriarchal, familial, political, and societal conditions. Although told in a narrative based on Skeena’s Muslim identity and birthright the story transcends all cultural boundaries of violence against women. The story is layered in memorable characters and details so rich you will want to savor every word. The novel documents yet another personal account of a powerful voice that breaks the code of silence in the world of violence against woman and oppression of all peoples.

A page turner from beginning to end. A potential best seller.

Essential reading for high school and university students.

Aurhor/Presenter Valerie B. -Taylor is the President of New West Writers group. More information here:

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