Thursday 3 September 2015

Book Review- Without Shame by Katherine Russell

I have become intrigued with South West Asian and Middle Eastern literature of late and when "Without Shame" landed on my desk, I knew it was exactly the type of book that I would love to devour while snuggled up on the couch with a steaming cup of coffee. 

While this book is set in the 1960's in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), many of the political, religious and cultural themes that run through this book are still pertinent today.

I found the following quote online by the American author, Katherine Russell:
"Many people ask why I chose to write a novel about 1960's East Pakistan. After all, I couldn't have been there. My answer is this: I didn't set out to write a novel; I set out to make better sense of our world through writing. I wanted to learn about Islam in a more positive context than our current media is giving. I wanted to walk in another woman's shoes in a culture with different - yet ofttimes very similar - values and truths from my own. And I wanted to understand what it is to be an imperialized culture in a neocolonial world, where my own country is ever the imperialist."

In an impoverished Muslim society riddled with cultural superstition,  bold and intelligent Sariya was always different to the other girls in her village and was at an early age labelled as being a woman with no shame. "Shame was a virtue, a mark of high character and restraint that every woman should possess, but Sariyah always staggered over it." This deviation from expected norms was further exacerbated by a childhood event which left her with a minor physical disability.

While she was covertly educated by her uncle (bearing in mind that an education being seen as an undesirable trait for anyone, especially females on this society) and deeply inspired by the words of philosopher Tagore, the expectation was for the young protaginist to enter into an arranged marriage with a fifty year old with whom she shared no commonality. However, all this occurs in the midst of a Bengali revolution against colonialism, by which she is intrigued. In addition, she finds herself crossing paths with an American teacher doing relief work in her village, leading to a cross-pollination of ideas and perhaps a little more. How will Sariyah decide between living up to the expectations of her family and fulfilling her own goals?

This book feels like it is set out for greatness. The book is written in a beautiful, almost poetic style, with a complexity of themes that I can imagine perfectly fitting in to a heated literary discussion as a high school or even a university setwork. 

My sole critique is that towards the end of the book, it did feel like there was a chunk of the story that was omitted. I do hope that there will be a sequel to fill the gaps. 

I am sure you cannot wait to get hold of a copy of this gem, but you will have to be patient as it will only be officially released in October. Look out for the publication on Amazon or via FB Publishers.

*Disclosure: this was not a paid review but I was provided with a copy of the book for review purposes.

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