Review: If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

Title: If You Could Be Mine17302571
Author: Sara Farizan
Published: August 20th, 2013
Publisher: Alqonquin Young Readers
Pages: 247
ISBN: 1616202513

Synopsis
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)

Review
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.

My rating: heartheartheart

Have you read this book? If so, let me know what you thought of it!

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Review: Fast Times in Palestine: A Love Affair with a Homeless Homeland by Pamela J. Olson

16000331Title:  Fast Times in Palestine: A Love Affair with a Homeless Homeland
Author: Pamela J. Olson
Published: March 12th 2013
Publisher: Seal Press
Pages: 320
ISBN: 158005482X
Source: Netgalley

Synopsis
For much of her life -like many Westerners- most of what Pamela Olson knew of the Middle East was informed by headlines and stereotypes. But when she traveled to Palestine in 2003, she found herself thrown with dizzying speed into the realities of Palestinian life.

Fast Times in Palestine is Olson’s powerful, deeply moving account of life in Palestine – both the daily events that are universal to us all (house parties, concerts, barbecues, and weddings) as well as the violence, trauma, and political tensions that are particular to the country. From idyllic olive groves to Palestinian beer gardens, from Passover in Tel Aviv to Ramadan in a Hamas village, readers will find Olson’s narrative both suspenseful and discerning. Her irresistible story offers a multi-faceted understanding of the Palestinian perspective on the Israel/Palestine conflict, filling a gap in the West’s popular understanding of the difficult relationship between the two nations.

At turns funny, shocking, and galvanizing, Fast Times in Palestine is a gripping narrative that challenges our ways of thinking – not only about the Middle East, but about human nature, cultural identity, and our place in the world.

Review
Over the years I’ve read quite a few books about Israel and Palestine, but this one is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. I knew that this book was about someone’s personal account of life in Palestine, but I had no idea that Olson hadn’t specifically intended to go to Palestine. She went backpacking in the Middle East and happened to come across some people who invited her to come along to Israel with them, and took her with them to Palestine after that. The fact that the Middle East was a relatively unknown region to Olson before she started out on her journey is actually really nice, especially for people reading this novel who don’t know much about it either, because you gradually discover more and more about the region and Israel and Palestine in particular.

The best thing about this book, in my opinion, are the personal accounts of the people she meets during her time in Palestine. Here in the West we get so much information thrown at us about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but there is nothing we can directly empathise with. By recording people’s personal accounts and allowing us a brief glimpse into their personal lives, it brings the conflict much closer to home. Olson shows that Palestinians are just ordinary human beings who try to go about their normal life as much as they possibly can in spite of all the restrictions imposed by the Israeli government.

The author tries to illustrate the injustices in the region the best she can, and she does so from a fairly objective point of view. It is very easy for a casual observer to generalise a situation and condemn only one of the parties involved, but Olson manages to depict everyone she encountered as human beings, Palestinians and Israelis alike, which is exactly where the power of this book lies. There is no doubt about the fact that Israel is the oppressor in this conflict and Palestine the oppressed, but that does not mean that Israel and all of its inhabitants are the source of all evil, which is how they are often depicted by pro Palestinians. The same goes for the general image of Palestinians in the media. Very often they are either depicted as victims of a great injustice, or as terrorists. The author shows that there are good and bad people on both sides, and also tries to understand and explain why certain people are drawn to certain courses of action. She doesn’t just depict the Palestinians as a poor, homeless people with no prospect, but rather as a multitude of people with hopes and dreams, and with very diverse expectations of life. Olson gives a voice to people who would normally be ignored by the general media, to show that there are many Palestinians who condemn suicide bombers, and there are many Israelis who oppose the settlements in Gaza and on the West Bank, just to name a few examples.

The way in which the book is written, as a kind of travelogue, works really well. Together with the author we gradually peel back the layers of society and of the conflict, and it makes reading the book really exciting because it almost feels as if you are there with her. Olson also manages to strike the right balance between the more light hearted moments of her time in Palestine, such as accounts of helping families with the harvest, enjoying dinners with a large variety of people, and sightseeing, and the more shocking and depressing moments when talking about the many civilian casualties, people being robbed of their land, and tragedies at the various Israeli checkpoints. This way the book offers a perspective that is neither too positive nor too depressing or pessimistic either. It shows how strong human spirit actually is, and that people can manage to retain a degree of optimism even in the most dire of circumstances.

I think this is a must-read for anyone who is remotely interested in the Middle East and who wants to learn more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but doesn’t want to read a dry text packed with statistics and facts. This book does occasionally contain some statistics to back up arguments, but it is a lively and beautifully written account of a young woman whose life took some truly unexpected turns. It is an engaging and thought provoking book, and I definitely think everyone should read it.

My rating: heartheartheartheartheart

On My Bookshelf (8)

In this weekly meme I will highlight a book that remains on my shelf, unread and impatiently waiting to be picked up.

onmybookshelf

This week’s pick is The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk. I bought this book back in December, and I think the main reason why I haven’t read it yet is because it looks big and intimidating. I own the hardcover and it really is a massive book. But I guess I’ll need to bite the bullet soon and start reading it, because I really want to read more by Orhan Pamuk. I absolutely adored My Name is Red which I read last summer and I just fell in love with his style of writing. It’s so beautiful and poetic and unlike anything I’ve read before.

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Synopsis
It is 1975, a perfect spring in Istanbul. Kemal and Sibel, children of two prominent families, are about to become engaged. But when Kemal encounters Fusun, a beautiful shopgirl and a distant relation, he becomes enthralled. And once they violate the code of virginity, a rift begins to open between Kemal and the world of the Westernized Istanbul bourgeoisie. In his pursuit of Fusun over the next eight years, Kemal becomes a compulsive collector of objects that chronicle his lovelorn progress–amassing a museum that is both a map of a society and of his heart. Orhan Pamuk’s first novel since winning the Nobel Prize is a stirring exploration of the nature of romance.