Wednesday 13 June 2012

165. Secrets of the Henna Girl by Sufiya Ahmed

Henna Girl by Sufiya Ahmed
Published May 2012 Penguin

From the publisher:

Zeba Khan is like any other sixteen-year-old girl: enjoying herself, waiting for exam results . . . and dreaming of the day she'll meet her one true love.

Except her parents have other plans.

In Pakistan for the summer, Zeba's world is shattered. Her future is threatened by an unthinkable - and forced - duty to protect her father's honour

But does she hold the secrets that will help her escape?

Zeba is on holiday to visit relatives in Pakistan, only to learn that she is to be married to her cousin Asif. Zeba feels betrayed by her parents, especially her father who puts his loyalty to his brother before his loyalty to her.. Her father claims that he owes his brother, and this is the way he can repay him. Her uncle wants her to marry Asif, so that he will leave the army and move to the UK where he will be safe.

As well as the main story, we also meet Sehar, who was forced into a marriage she didn't consent too. She is now pregnant, and waiting for her baby to be born so that they can flee back to England with the help of a charity worker who can help girls in her situation.  There is also Farhat, Sehar's maid.  Through Farhat we see what it is like for young women who live in this community, and work for the wealthy landowners.  Farhat is also to be married, although hers is an arranged marriage, not a forced one.  The distinction between the two types of marriages is quite clear; in an arranged marriage both parties consent to the union, in a forced marriage consent is not given.  For an Islamic marriage to be valid, the bride must freely give her consent. In this book we find that there are ways to trick the imam (leader in the Islamic community, who also perform marriage ceremonies) into believing the bride gives her consent.

The book gives an insight into life in this rural area of Pakistan. We see that the role of women hasn't ever changed, and that certain people in the community are starting to question some of the practices.   The book doesn't condemn Muslims or their beliefs, even Zeba who is a Muslim living in the western world has a respect for her customs and cultures, and has a fierce loyalty toward her family, She fully expects to one day marry a Muslim man, and continue living her life as a Muslim, but as an educated free woman, she had always assumed that ultimately the choice would be her own. The main issue of this story is how it feels to be given a Western life with all of its opportunities and then be told you were to have all that taken away.  It's not so much about religion, but an individuals right to make their own choices.

Who will like this book: Girls age 14+
Read it if you like: Marrying Ameera by Rosanne Hawke

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