I hope you’re all well and have had another great week in this glorious sunshine. I’m writing a little later in the day today than I would normally, as I’ve been SO busy this week!! My boyfriend’s house is currently up for sale and obviously during the main lockdown we haven’t been able to show it; now the housing market is back up and running we’ve had so many viewings and we’ve decided to do it up a bit too, so all week we’ve been playing Estate Agent as well as pro decorators! We’ve literally painted the front door, interior of the porch and floor, the bathroom and two hallways in a few days. Next plan tomorrow is to paint the bedroom and maybe the downstairs bathroom. The house will look like a completely different one to it’s original listing, it’s so much better!
So for my birthday, my lovely friend Aimee bought me a 3 month subscription to the Rare Bird’s book club (rarebirdsbookclub.com) and I received my first book through the post a couple of weeks ago. Honestly I think this was the most excited I’ve been about receiving book mail ever.
It came in brown paper cardboard (like Amazon) but then inside was this absolutely gorgeous wrapped book! Complete with a Mary Poppins bookmark (you can never have enough bookmarks) and some cards explaining the synopsis of the book. What I think is great about this book subscription is that all books are written by female authors and are usually published within the last year so you’re most likely to discover something new. My only concern would be if I knew from my options that I had both books already? Not sure how that works but I definitely think I’ll be continuing with this book club!
THE PACT WE MADE, BY LAYLA ALAMMAR
Dahlia has two lives. In one, she is a young woman with a good job, great friends and a busy social life. In the other, she is an unmarried daughter living at home, struggling with a burgeoning anxiety disorder and a deeply buried secret: a violent betrayal too shameful to speak of.
With her thirtieth birthday fast-approaching, pressure from her mother to accept a marriage proposal begins to strain the family. As her two lives start to collide and fracture, all Dahlia can think of is escape: something that seems impossible when she can’t even leave the country without her father’s consent.
But what if Dahlia does have a choice? What if all she needs is the courage to make it?
In the first chapter we are introduced to 8 year old Dahlia and her best friends for life, Mona and Zaina, where they are playing weddings, taking it in turns to be bride and groom and to which they make a playful pact regarding who will be married first. We are quickly introduced to the traditions of Kuwaiti families and the focus on arranged marriages and the expectations on women to marry young and produce children. At 8 years old I was climbing trees and playing ‘kissy cats’ and ‘red rover’ around the playground (although no doubt both of those are banned at schools now!), rather than making agreements with my friends about our adult lives. Although this childish pact (to which the title relates) would be considered such, it is something that the girls bring with them into teenage life and eventually adulthood, holding more importance to some than others or than was perhaps expected.
In modern day, Dahlia is approaching her 30th Birthday, unmarried, without children and still living at home, whilst Mona & Zaina are married and Zaina has children. Along with a milestone age is the pressure she is facing from her parents and society to marry and create children as soon as possible, predominantly from her Mother. She arranges meetings to meet potential suitors to instigate arranged marriages with the tenacious passion of an investor or broker to get a deal done. For Dahlia being unmarried at such an age raises a few eyebrows; men (and their mother in laws) want virgins, and as we learn quickly, it’s too late for that; but we’re not yet revealed as to why.
I could relate to the societal pressure to marry and have had children by a certain age, I’m sure anyone who is my age and unmarried with children has been asked many times ‘so when are you getting married’, ‘when are you having a baby?’ as though you are 100% in control of the situation or that that’s your ultimate priority in life. Therefore I cannot imagine the oppression women must face in such a society, where you are expected to agree to quickly marry a man you know nothing about, to please your family and society, to pursue careers that are of no interest to you because that’s a ‘good job’ in your family’s eyes. Dahlia longs to be an artist and she has no interest in arranged marriages; she wants to marry for love, rather than a man her family approves of. Therefore Dahlia rebels time and time again, by refusing to wear dresses her mother lays out for her, and in many other ways you will find throughout the story.
I felt that Dahlia and her friends were living in a world that was modern on the outside, with fancy cars and makeup, clothes and jewellery, but so oppressive and traditional on the inside; where women’s freedoms and desires were predetermined for them. Dahlia is close to 30 yet her mother is picking out her clothes for her, as though she is a child and not trusted in her own judgement.
I don’t wish to spoil the story so won’t go into further struggles as they are so important that you discover them for yourself in the way the author intends, but it just made me feel so much more for Dahlia. Although her family love and want to protect her, from my Western eyes they don’t respect her or her wishes. It is entirely about family honour and what looks good to society, there is no care for how Dahlia wishes to live or what makes her happy. I felt it was a sad existence and completely understood Dahlia’s rebellion in each moment.
At the end of the story, Dahlia makes a decision that I in no way supported; I felt that she contradicted her own beliefs and made a decision on impulse that had such a cutting impact on her future, but I also understood. She’s trapped like a tiger in a cage with her will to be free from oppresion bursting through the bars and so accepts her chance of freedom wildly and without much thought.
CAN’T PUT IT DOWN RATING: 5/5
I absolutely LOVED this book, I read it in less than 2 days.
The author’s descriptions transported me with Dahlia at every moment. I saw the clothes her mother laid out for her, I saw her art, I felt her pain, her jealousy and her struggles. I will warn you that the story contains mental health struggles, abuse and moments involving self-harm which I understand may be triggering for some people – however I feel it is absolutely one of the most important books I’ve read to understand exactly what goes on behind closed doors in cultures outside of my own, the deep struggles and lack of mental health support that some people are facing in order to protect family ‘honour’ and that even in what appears to be a modern society, the reality is anything but in line with modern times.
I appreciate that arranged marriages are still popular and can be entirely successful, developing into loving relationships with a great family bond and people are really happy with their choice, but I can also imagine that there are many unhappy people living lives that they do not want, longing for freedom and to be free from such expectations. I firmly believe that if a woman or man does not want to be in an arranged marriage then they should not be expected to do so as a respect for them as people and their freedoms.
I was once told by one of my favourite free spirited people that ‘Freedom comes at a cost‘ – to most in modern society that means money, and to some it could mean losing friends and relatives when revealing their sexuality, but never would you consider that pursuing your freedom would mean having to leave your country and your family behind.
I 100% recommend this book, it’s an absolutely amazing debut novel. I feel that the story however hasn’t quite finished, so hope that there’s a second one in the works.
Where to buy:
Book Depositary: £7.37
WASHED DOWN WITH
I’m absolutely obsessed with this Betty’s tea room blend that I kindly received as a birthday present from my Mum. It’s a strong brew, perfect for ‘builder’s tea’ drinkers like me.
You can normally enjoy this tea in a glorious Betty’s tea room, but as they’re temporarily closed due to the pandemic, you can buy yours online for £4.35 for 80 bags (bargain!!). Pick yourself up some tea loaf too, it’s bloody amazing – just click the link below. (PS- I take NO responsibility for your calorie intake!)
That’s it until next week! Hopefully we’ll have done all of our decorating and I might be more on schedule with my review next week haha! Also hoping to finish the book I’m reading at the moment which I won’t be reviewing as its non fiction which I feel is very much open to interpretation and not particularly one I feel comfortable appraising. However if you fancy reading an inspirational memoir from a holocaust survivor, I can highly recommend ‘The Choice’ by Edith Eger.
Until the next Chapter,