In sixteen-year-old Abida’s small Pakistani village, there are age-old rules to live by, and her family’s honour to protect. And, yet, her spirit is defiant and she yearns to make a home with the man she loves. When the unthinkable happens, Abida faces the same fate as other young girls who have chosen unacceptable alliances – certain, public death. Fired by a fierce determination to resist everything she knows to be wrong about the society into which she was born, and aided by her devoted father, Jamil, who puts his own life on the line to help her, she escapes to Lahore – only to disappear. Jamil goes to Lahore in search of Abida – a city where the prejudices that dominate their village take on a new and horrifying form – and father and daughter are caught in a world from which they may never escape.
Awais Khan is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario and Durham University, and studied creative writing with Faber Academy. His debut novel, In the Company of Strangers, was published to much critical acclaim, and he now regularly appears on TV and radio. Awais also teaches a popular online creative writing course to aspiring writers around the world. He lives in Lahore and is currently working on his third novel. Follow Awais on Twitter @AwaisKhanAuthor.
My thoughts: this book was powerful, moving and devastating. Opening with a terrible “honour killing” that shocked, this is no cosy crime novel. Instead it explores the tragic reality of young women’s lives in parts of Pakistani society. Abida grows up in a rural village where the older men form a sort of council and dispense what they see as justice – including horrific and violent murders of young women and newborn babies. But her father, Jamil, thinks differently, and instead encourages her to flee to Lahore, thinking it will be safer.
Instead she encounters more brutality and violence. But this is a love story – that of a father’s love for his child, as Jamil heads to the city to find his lost daughter. Abida is incredibly resilient and a true survivor – she gets it from her father. Against all the odds stacked against her she perseveres.
This is an incredibly powerful book, it really packs a punch. Khan clearly feels, as many do, that there is no honour in killing and that more men need to be like Jamil and stand against these outdated and deeply monstrous beliefs and crimes. He is not ashamed of Abida, indeed he is proud of his incredible daughter.
This is not an easy book to read, but it is an important one. Tragically Abida’s story is all too real and young women are still at risk of being murdered, not just in rural Pakistan either. What Awais Khan has done with this story is shine a spotlight on the corruption in a society that allows these crimes to go on. Truly vital reading.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.