In this stunning debut, a young Iranian American writer pulls back the curtain on one of the most hidden corners of a much-talked-about culture.
Seventeen-year-old Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six. They’ve shared stolen kisses and romantic promises. But Iran is a dangerous place for two girls in love—Sahar and Nasrin could be beaten, imprisoned, even executed if their relationship came to light.
So they carry on in secret—until Nasrin’s parents announce that they’ve arranged for her marriage. Nasrin tries to persuade Sahar that they can go on as they have been, only now with new comforts provided by the decent, well-to-do doctor Nasrin will marry. But Sahar dreams of loving Nasrin exclusively—and openly.
Then Sahar discovers what seems like the perfect solution. In Iran, homosexuality may be a crime, but to be a man trapped in a woman’s body is seen as nature’s mistake, and sex reassignment is legal and accessible. As a man, Sahar could be the one to marry Nasrin. Sahar will never be able to love the one she wants, in the body she wants to be loved in, without risking her life. Is saving her love worth sacrificing her true self? (Goodreads)
This book has been on my TBR list for ages, ever since I saw the ARC pop up on Netgalley about a year ago. I didn’t request it at the time because I still had so many other books to read, but the story really intrigued me and it was never far from my mind. So when I finally got my own copy at the beginning of the year as a belated Christmas present, I was really excited and couldn’t wait to finally start reading it. But of course that coincided with the start of my second semester, which meant that I didn’t have a lot of time to actually read for fun. So in spite of it being a really short book at just under 250 pages, it still took me a while to finish it.
I have to say the book definitely didn’t disappoint. The style of writing was easy and accessible, which I’d say is rather typical for a young adult book, and personally that’s all I can handle at the moment when I take a break from reading academic texts. And though the style of the book may be simple, the content isn’t. It tackles some big issues about gender and gender-identity, forbidden love, the loss of a parent, corruption, prostitution, and authoritarianism. In addition to that the novel features gay, lesbian, and transgender characters in prominent roles. It sounds like a lot for such a relatively short book but oddly enough it’s not overwhelming, even though that is what you’d expect. It’s all woven together beautifully, and you feel as though you really get to know the characters. The story is told from Sahar’s point of view, and because of that focuses primarily on her. So she was the first character I really sympathised with and really felt sorry for, but as the story progresses you gradually get to know the other characters better as well, and you begin to see that they all have their own problems to deal with. Nasrin seems very happy-go-lucky and superficial, and for the best part of the novel you actually get the impression that that’s all there is to her character, but it’s not. And that just shows, once again, that nobody’s perfect and you shouldn’t judge anyone based solely on outward appearances. The lengths Sahar was willing to go to for her and Nasrin to be together were, I think, equally admirable and terrifying, and I’m so glad that she didn’t go through with it in the end. It’s good that sex-change operations exist for people who really need them, but she was going to do it for all the wrong reasons.
What I like about the ending is that it’s a rather unsatisfying one for the characters. I’m searching for the right word, and unsatisfying isn’t quite what I’m looking for, but that’s the best I can come up with for now. Also, it makes it seem as though I like to see the characters suffer but that’s not the case (I’m not sadistic I swear! :)). I like it because it’s a very realistic ending. I won’t give too much away about the ending, but in the wider context of the story it wouldn’t have worked if Sahar and Nasrin had gotten their happy ending. They live in Iran, and being gay is punishable by death, so they can’t be together. In addition to that Sahar is married and adultery, surprise surprise, is also a criminal offence. So whichever way you look at it they can’t end up together, as much as I wanted them to. But I’m also glad that it didn’t have a tragic ending, which I was dreading for a while as I was reading the book. That would have worked in my view, but it would’ve been too horrible and sad. To cut my rambling short, because this is going nowhere – and Ireally don’t want to give too much away – I thought it was a good book and I enjoyed reading it. I would definitely recommend it to others.
Have you read this book? If so, let me know what you thought of it!