"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton
This is where I chronicle my reading life. I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.
This book feels like one that is totally built around an interesting concept -- unfortunately, it doesn't have the heart or the characterization that would allow it to live up to its potential. This is really a shame, since there are so few books that address the GLBTQ experience from a Muslim perspective, or from within Middle Eastern countries.
The story follows Sahar, who has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since forever. Homosexuality is illegal in Iran, but getting a sex change is not. So Sahar considers a sex change as her opportunity to be with Nasrin, even though she does not truly feel like she's in the wrong body.
The information about attitudes and experiences of transgender people in Iran is the most interesting part of the book, and probably its most redeemable. My favorite scenes were those in which Sahar attended a support group for trans people who were in various stages of transition. However, the agony of such a decision -- to change yourself or to lose the girl you love -- just did not come through in these pages. There are a few reasons for this. To be blunt, one is that the book just isn't that well written. There is so much "telling" rather than showing ("I felt confused," "She was spoiled," "He always came out fine," etc.), and Sahar's narrative voice came across as unnecessarily flip and careless. And even though the book was published by a major imprint, it was riddled with typos as well. All in all, it felt as if Algonquin was in such a rush to get this novel perspective out that it didn't stop to make sure the quality was worth such fanfare.
The other reason I never connected with the agony of Sahar's decision is that it was hard for me to really believe in her love story with Nasrin. Although they've known each other their whole lives, their relationship seems to be mainly physical. What's more, Sahar even seems contemptuous of Nasrin, remarking on how "spoiled" she is and how she always wants to be the center of attention. Sahar seems to want to be with Nasrin so she can continue to pamper her and let her lead the sheltered, easy life to which she has become accustomed, so it's hard to ever see these two girls having a relationship of equals. And it's hard to see what Sahar sees in Nasrin beyond the superficial. If Sahar views Nasrin with such contempt at this point in the relationship, it does not seem at all worth it to risk all she would if they were to be together.
Quality-wise, I felt that this was a two-star book. But I gave it three because it held my interest, and because it fills a gap in the market. I hope it is a precursor to other books that fill that gap with more artistry and grace.