By: Lucy Ferriss
Published: January 6, 2015
Publisher: Berkley Trade
Afia and her brother Shahid have come to America from Pakistan. Shahid came first to play squash in college. He then convinced his family in Pakistan that sending his sister to complete her studies and become a doctor was the best thing for their family. Shahid promised to protect her and protect their family honor. Shahid was busy with his own studies, working toward his future coaching career at Harvard, and his squash matches that he missed Afia, off at another college, living a bit more Americanized than his family would have liked. Soon a photo appears on the college webpage of Afia holding hands with an American man. Word travels back to Pakistan and their family's honor is immediately in jeopardy. How did the family find out so quickly about the photo? Shahid is expected to take care of this situation, but can he do what is expected of him?
Understanding the culture, religion and honor code of families in Pakistan is central to this novel. Ferriss does an excellent job of displaying the American's inability to grasp this strict honor code and Shahid and Afia's need to maintain it even while here in the United States. This clash of cultures causes numerous problems not only for Afia and Shahid, but for their American friends as well. Nothing in the novel was unbelievable and sadly, I'm sure there was a lot of truth to the situations that played out in Afia and Shahid's story.
A story like this is eye-opening for those of us who cannot comprehend that type of honor code and rules that are expected to be followed. When those rules are broken, the ripple effects through the community back home and for the family can be life-changing. Reading Afia's struggle over the decision to do what is right for her family and country and doing what she wanted to do was heartbreaking. It is something that most of us born and raised in the Midwest could never understand. I find reading and learning about other cultures fascinating. The expectations and rules for women, especially in Islamic countries, remind me to appreciate the freedoms and opportunities I have here in America.
This conversation between Coach Hayes and her husband about Shahid gives a glimpse into that honor code:
"What difference did you want him to see?
"The one between quilt and shame."
"Would it be sinful for Afia to have a boyfriend,
or just shameful if people knew about it?"
I found each of the characters realistic whether they were in America or Pakistan. Shahid's relationship with his coach and mentor, Lissy Hayes and Afia's romantic relationship with Gus were well-developed and their personalities jumped off the pages. Afia’s personal struggle between remaining covered to honor her family, yet wanting to wear American clothing in order to fit in were understandable. The author even described the first tastes of American food, like Afia’s first burger and her struggle with making one for the first time. The characters became real and allowed the reader to become invested and root for them when life became difficult.
The beginning of the novel started slowly for me as the story began in Pakistan with names of people and places that were difficult to keep track of. The family relationships were confusing and a family tree would have helped keep everyone straight. Eventually, the important characters emerged and when the following chapters took the story to America, it became easier to follow.
Born in St. Louis, Lucy Ferriss has lived on both coasts, in the middle, and abroad. She is the author of ten books, mostly fiction. Her novel THE LOST DAUGHTER (Berkley 2012) was a BOMC alternate selection and a national bestseller. Many of her short fiction and essays have appeared most recently in the New York Times, Missouri Review, Shenandoah, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Georgia Review, and have received recognition from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Faulkner Society, the Fulbright Commission, and the George Bennett Fund, among others,
She received her Ph.D. from Tufts University and currently lives with Don Moon in the Berkshires and in Connecticut, where she is Writer-in-Residence at Trinity College. She has two strong sons and abiding passions for music, politics, travel, tennis, and wilderness. Visit Lucy at her website http://lucyferriss.com. You can also find Ferriss on Facebook, HERE and Twitter, HERE.
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