For most women functioning in traditional households, this book could be triggering. Ayesha Hussain’s debut novel lays out in plain sight the everyday experiences that many women go through. This book will resonate with women across all age groups and relationships. It begins with Noor leaving longstanding affections behind and walking into a marriage with Zain, that has been chosen for them by their mothers. Noor’s mother Salma is seen harnessing all her aspirations for Noor’s future on her alone and sends her into this new family where Noor’s reality of life is soon to change.
As a young and ambitious-to-please bride, Noor is seen hustling emotionally, physically, and mentally to push for validation and recognition as a wife and daughter-in-law. As Noor gets caught in a never-ending spiral of people pleasing, she, for the first time, is confronted with her emptiness and lack of being a ‘somebody’ amidst the shaky standards of this society. As she pushes hard through circumstances to find some solace by creating opportunities for herself, she finds herself at a crossroads again where she treads on the path of motherhood. Through her years, the writer captures Noor’s seclusion between so many responsibilities and her true desires without explicitly saying so. The use of simple language and short chapters makes it easy for the reader to swim along Noor’s life as she finds herself fading into the background of her in-laws’, husband’s and then her children’s life until one day, a surprise encounter with Idrees awakens Noor’s heart in ways she had long forgotten.
While Noor’s character is surrounded by so many people, it is only in Idrees that she finally finds some connection after decades. However, it is for the reader to explore how this relationship unravels Noor’s life, for better or worse. The book, however, ends on a liberating and comforting note. This commendable effort at storytelling also brushes upon relevant themes such as an unsupportive family, toxic prying and the weight of social stigmas often unfairly placed on one party.
A significant theme that is recurrent in the novel is that of self-improvement and self-reflection. Noor’s character often only finds answers to her questions in conversations she has with herself or in her time alone. It is in this self-reflection that she finds the need and courage of putting herself out there to acquire and work on being more than what her conventional roles had long allowed her to be. While she is seen fulfilling her responsibilities effectively, she also shows nerve in saying ‘yes’ to experiences that prove to be her only and most significant asset in dire times.
This book also familiarises readers with what is often the subtle art of gaslighting among extended households, where a certain few have the power to question and undermine the sufferers’ reality. This not only hurts Noor at each point but the cumulative result of years of gaslighting is boldly displayed towards the end by the Author.
Ayesha’s gentle nod to cultural nuances such as weddings, dawats and the back-and-forth of extended family members provides a very relatable background for Pakistani readers. The contrast that she draws in both the robust and flaccid attitude of those that can and should offer support in time of crisis will also hit home with readers. Indicative titles at the start of each chapter add to the list of things that keep the reader engaged. In sum, this book is a full-circle read, bringing the reader to a much awaited closure. A noteworthy phrase that encapsules the essence of the book is:
“A woman does have a home she can call her own…..it rests on the solid foundation of courage”
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