The title is misleadingly carefree for this teen novel about the very important subject of forced marriages. Sufiya Ahmed has tackled an issue that we hear about in the media, but which we perhaps don’t know enough about, isolated as many of us are in our western values.
Zeba is a 16-year-old Yorkshire muslim girl, who in the summer after her GCSEs goes on holiday to Pakistan where she discovers she has been promised in marriage to her cousin Asif.
The difference here for the reader is that we get to see all that takes place, rather than a one-sided European newspaper article. This book is valuable in that it educates us and shows us what life in the Pakistani countryside can be like. It still only shows us one reality, and if there is a weakness it is that Zeba’s intended husband comes from a reasonably well off family, and her maternal grandmother who lives in the same village is highly thought of and not without either education or influence.
The book could have done with more careful editing, and I felt that Zeba’s voice seemed a little mature for 16, and not perhaps a very typical 16-year-old, either. But as the story progresses you sort of forget about that and you want to see what will happen to Zeba.
There is none of the ‘get out of here fast’ that a western reader might expect. Zeba is truly stuck and she discovers things about Pakistan and about muslim life. And most of all, about the lives of women under the complete power of men, however stupid.
At times you feel that whereas Zeba is expected to escape because this is a British book, she might well not do so. There are many good aspects to Pakistani life, and there is a difference between forced marriages and arranged marriages.
I don’t want to tell you what happens, but there is plenty in here to give you food for thought. And as for instructing me about muslims, I learned a lot I didn’t know before.
If Sufiya’s novel saves just one girl from a forced marriage, it will have to be considered a worthwhile book.