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Friday, April 24, 2015

Forbidden Romance Leads to Violence in Thrilling, Thought-Provoking Culture Clash Novel

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Thanks to an athletic scholarship, Shahid Satar has been in the U.S. for three years studying business at a college in Massachusetts.  A starter on Enright's men's squash team, the Pakistani knows the importance of bonding with the other players, most of whom hail from countries as foreign as his.  He's also learned to tune out the jeers and racist slurs often hurled at himself and his mostly dark-skinned teammates.  It's all part of the culture clash he experiences every day as an international student at a liberal American school.  He's used to it by now.

The experience, however, is all new for Afia Satar, Shahid's 19-year-old sister.  Because of Shahid's promise to guard her honor, the young Pashtun woman has been allowed to study in the U.S. as well, although she attends a nearby women's college instead of her brother's co-ed school.  Despite the wild Western ways she encounters daily, Afia remains as she always has been—shy, studious, modest and mostly obedient to the traditional rules of her religion and culture.  She's not without her secrets, however.  Her brother does not know—cannot ever know—about Afia's shameful grocery store job or about her increasingly intimate relationship with his redheaded American teammate.  The latter is dangerous, much more so than earnest Gus Schnieder realizes.

When an innocent photo of Afia and Gus turns up on the Internet, it sets off a series of explosive reactions, especially from Afia's jihad-obsessed stepbrother.  Embarrassed and furious by his sister's betrayal of his trust, Shahid worries how far his family in Pakistan will require him to go to avenge Afia's honor.  Afia fears not just for Gus, but also for her own life—and rightly so.  As events come to a terrifying head, she must face the deadly consequences of falling in love with the wrong man, in the wrong country, in the wrong way.  Will things ever be right for her again?

A Sister to Honor by Lucy Ferriss is a heartbreaking novel about the often violent clash between Eastern and Western cultures.  It's a book about honor, with all its various definitions.  Mostly, though, it's a story about family, friendship, and giving up everything for a chance to live a different kind of life.  Although the tension builds slowly, the tale soon becomes a taut thriller, as horrifying as it is pulse-pounding.  Told from various viewpoints, A Sister to Honor is a compelling novel with intriguing, sympathetic characters; a timely, complex conflict; and an engrossing, well-crafted plot.  My only complaint is that the characters' roles/actions seemed to reinforce all the common clichés about Pakistani and Islamic culture.  I don't pretend to know anything about either, but I still would have liked a broader perspective on both.  Despite that, I enjoyed this thrilling, thought-provoking read.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a little of Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for strong language, violence, sexual content and depictions of underage drinking and illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of A Sister to Honor from the generous folks at Penguin.  Thank you!
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