May-Lee Chai in The New York Times:
Bushra Rehman’s stunningly beautiful coming-of-age novel “Roses, in the Mouth of a Lion” is set in the Corona neighborhood of Queens, New York, which was enshrined in pop culture by Paul Simon’s 1972 hit “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.” Rehman’s exuberant young protagonist, Razia, knows the song well, although it puzzles her. “Why would Paul Simon be singing about Corona?” she muses. “I didn’t see many white people there unless they were policemen or firemen, and I didn’t think Paul Simon had ever been one of those.”
In the late 1980s, Razia’s Corona is home to a growing Pakistani Muslim community, along with Dominican and Korean immigrants. The earlier, largely Jewish and Italian, immigrant residents of Simon’s day have moved on to wealthier, whiter neighborhoods.
Rehman evokes time and place like a poet, with descriptions both precise and lyrical, making the streets of this working-class neighborhood come alive on the page. One house has so many roses that “they grew up and over, through the fence like they were some kind of convicts trying to scale the walls”; during the evening call to prayer, she writes, “everyone in the neighborhood tilted their heads and listened. Out of basement apartments and sixth-floor walk-ups, Muslim men started walking toward the sound, pulling their topis out of the back seats of their pockets.”