“A life of loneliness is an awful punishment for one bad decision. We don’t want that for you. Trust us. Promise you won’t disappoint us.”
Book: Written in the Stars
Author: Aisha Saeed
This heart-wrenching novel explores what it is like to be thrust into an unwanted marriage. Has Naila’s fate been written in the stars? Or can she still make her own destiny?
Naila’s conservative immigrant parents have always said the same thing: She may choose what to study, how to wear her hair, and what to be when she grows up—but they will choose her husband. Following their cultural tradition, they will plan an arranged marriage for her. And until then, dating—even friendship with a boy—is forbidden. When Naila breaks their rule by falling in love with Saif, her parents are livid. Convinced she has forgotten who she truly is, they travel to Pakistan to visit relatives and explore their roots. But Naila’s vacation turns into a nightmare when she learns that plans have changed—her parents have found her a husband and they want her to marry him, now! Despite her greatest efforts, Naila is aghast to find herself cut off from everything and everyone she once knew. Her only hope of escape is Saif . . . if he can find her before it’s too late.
I sort of skimmed through the book. I got to the end, so I wouldn’t classify it as a DNF but I couldn’t enjoy this book. It was repetitive, and the writing felt a little boring.
I am going to get a lot of flack for this review, but I didn’t like the book.
Yes, I know this book is realistic fiction and kudos to Aisha Saeed for writing something so controversial for her first book. But it doesn’t change the fact that I didn’t like this book.
I’ve heard that Americans have a harder time adjusting to British culture than any other. This is because some of the things are similar (the language, the emphasis on hard work) while others are just different enough for you to feel bewildered (the jokes, the language, the value-system). In this case, the familiarity works against you.
Something similar happened in this book for me.
I am an Indian/American girl. My parents were born in the Indian subcontinent, and I’ve spent 6 years there. I’m not only aware of my Indian ‘heritage’- I’m proud of it. However, I was born in America and at heart, I consider myself American. So does Nalia (the MC). In that sense, there were a lot of things in this book that felt familiar to me.
Here are some things I can relate to:
- My parents had an arranged marriage. They didn’t know each other before they got married. The only difference was that my Mom moved to the US after her marriage while Nalia was trapped in Pakistan
- . I’ve seen first-hand how close first-generation immigrants from the same country become. In a strange country where everyone has different skin colors, cultures, languages and clothes- it’s common to become nostalgic and homesick. While my Dad did his Ph.D. and my mom did an MBA, my parents lived in the predominantly white state of Georgia. They formed a close group with a bunch of other Indians, and they did everything together. The group remained together after graduation when several of them moved to Portland for jobs, and even now (20 years later) they’re still in touch. When they can, they get together. And I’m sort of friends with their kids because while the grown-ups talked or whatever, we were encouraged to hang out.
- I can accept an arranged marriage. Maybe it’s an unromantic opinion (I’ve heard people toss the term ‘brainwashed’ around), but marriage is about compatibility. In my opinion, the best marriage is a partnership of good companionship, better chemistry, and non-interfering or common goals. Does it matter if I find the person and then my parents approve him, or if it’s the other way around? (Some people will object to the word ‘approve’, but be honest, if you have a good relationship with your parents, do you picture yourself marrying someone your Dad or Mom hates?
- Parents warning you about ‘boys’. Let’s be honest here, did your Dad like your first boyfriend? (Assuming he wasn’t the son of a family friend or someone your brother knew, etc. – which is kind of like arranged dating, actually).
- Mom trying to get you to wear ethnic clothes when you go and visit other Indians. Here’s the argument:
Mom: You should wear it, beti. You’ll look so pretty.
Me: No thanks, I think I’ll keep wearing what I’m wearing.
Mom: You’ll feel out of place. Everyone will be wearing something Indian.
Me: Last time, everyone wore jeans.
Mom: Why won’t you wear the lehenga (half sari; long-skirt, a short top and a scarf)? Your grandmother got it tailored in India for you.
Me: You’re trying to guilt-trip me.
Mom: Fine, don’t wear the lehenga. You can wear the Churidar (long top with leggings and scarf).
Me: Fine. I’ll wear the kurta (long top) with jeans but that’s it, okay?
- Divorce is an ugly beached whale in Indian (and Pakistani) cultures. It’s awkward, and no doubt it does exist- but everyone pretends that it doesn’t happen. Divorces are considered embarrassing, something which you don’t consider unless there’s no other recourse. I think it’s an old-fashioned state of mind, but I can’t change what has been ingrained by thousands of years of culture that easily.
In my large extended family, I only know of one aunt who got a divorce. No, I don’t know the details- I don’t even know what her name is or if it’s just a rumor.
Here are things I can’t relate to at all:
- Getting in that much trouble for sneaking around with a boy. Grounded for a month, with all internet privileges taken away? Yes. (I’ve seen it happen to a friend). Being told I ‘shamed’ my family and forced into marriage? Nope. Not at all.
- Parents remaining so Pakistani (or Indian in my case). My parents are…parents. They will embarrass me to death as they try (and fail) to use slang in front of my friends. They wouldn’t treat my non-Indian friends with hostility.
The deciding question for whether I can go to a party is not ‘Will there be boys there?’ but ‘Have you finished your homework?’ They will stress about whether I’m taking AP classes and if I’m tempted to start doing drugs or drinking instead of whether I’m shaming my family. (I’ve got lectures about the first two- nothing said about the last one).
- On that note, education is the most important thing to them. If I got a scholarship for a 6-year program to become a doctor, they would be over the moon. I can’t imagine them doing anything to jeopardize my studies. Studies first. Arranged marriages later.
- My parents trapping me in a foreign country. I know where my passport is at all times. But I could trust my parents to give me my passport back if I handed it to them for safe keeping. I can trust them not to drug me as well.
- I can’t imagine anyone seeing a marriage where you were drugged and your signature forged as a legal and true marriage. If I were a groom, I wouldn’t want a forced bride. If I were the groom’s mother, I wouldn’t want a forced daughter in law.
Overall Rating: 1/5
Forced marriages exist. I’m not naive enough to pretend they don’t. The idea of a girl my age being forced to marry and trapped in another country? It’s truly horrifying.
But I couldn’t relate to this book. In my case, my familiarity with the culture just bewildered me and made it feel exaggerated and over-the-top.
If you’re unfamiliar with the culture, it might actually be easier for you to swallow this book.