Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Review: Blasphemy by Tehmina Durrani.

Book: Blasphemy

Author: Tehmina Durrani

Pages: 229

How Long It Took Me To Read: 3 hours

Read On: Paperback

Plot Summary: Set in south Pakistan, the novel inspired by a true story, is a searing study of evil; an uncompromising look at the distortion of Islam by predatory religious leaders. 

In prose of great power and intensity, the author tells the tragic story of the beautiful Heer, brutalized and corrupted by Pir Sain, the man of God, whom she is married to when barely fifteen. But the nightmare she is locked into is not hers alone; it affects the entire clan that owes allegiance to the pir. In the Pir's haveli, unspeakable horrors are perpetrated every day and every night, all in the name of Allah. Sucked into the fetid hell of her lord's making, Heer loses her dignity, her freedom, even her humanity, till a terrible resolution gives her back to herself.

General Thoughts: If books on sexual violence, domestic abuse and cruelty in general is upsetting to you, you might want to skip this book. Given that this book claims it's a real life story, it was even more upsetting to think that all of this inhumane things were done to a real person. I have heard about Durrani's 'My Feudal Lord' but chose to read this first because I wasn't in the mood for an autobiography. I enjoyed Durrani's writing style and look forward to reading 'My Feudal Lord'. 

What I Liked: 

1. I enjoyed Durrani's writing, the style, voice and tone of Heer, our main character, was engaging, heart-breaking but enjoyable. 

2. There are some serious horrors in this book. Like realllllly bad things happen to the women in this story but I couldn't stop reading. I was invested in Heer's life and wanted to know where her life went. 

3. I learned so much about the 'Purdah' system from this book. This was an extreme case of following the 'Purdah' and I am sure most people who still live in 'Purdah' aren't all as bad off as Heer and the women in the Pir's family. I felt claustrophobic reading about Heer's life post-marriage. She gets married at 15 and enters her married home and NEVER leaves. She isn't allowed to go out. She isn't allowed to meet any man except her husband, her sons and her own brother. She is brutally beaten for spending time with her six year old nephew! I didn't know...couldn't imagine 'Purdah' could be so severe. Her world, her life...her very existence becomes so narrow, it made me sick to think about it. Her marital home was nothing more than a prison. I cannot imagine never leaving the house....ever. She isn't even allowed to visit her mother's home anymore?! How can anyone live like this? 

4. I really appreciated that the violence wasn't graphically described. Thank-God! I don't do well with graphic details of sexual violence, it turns my stomach and I think about it for days. I was glad that all the horrible things that were being done in this book wasn't told in great detail. 

5. The clout and influence of a religious leader and the blind faith his followers have in his powers was shown so well. In cultures like our- India and Pakistan- people sometimes blindly follow the word of these so-called men of God. This aspect of the culture and the mindlessness of the hapless devotees was shown very well in this book. 

6. I couldn't put this book down and pretty much read it in one go. It was frightening and there were fresh horrors in each chapter but I just wanted to keep reading. And any book that gets me this involved is a good book in my opinion. 

7. Heer's mother is so greedy and turns a blind eye to her daughter's suffering for the sake of family honour and to some extent just plain old greed. I liked that this unsavory aspect of Heer's own family was brushed under the carpet. 

Things I Did Not Like: 

1. Everything bad that can happen to a woman happens in this book. Like REALLY everything. Rape, domestic violence, incest, death of a child, rape of child...all horrible things exist in this book. After a while I felt like I was getting de-sensitized to the violence in this book. And it made this book and it's story seem a lot more fiction and a lot less non-fiction. 

2. There were many other people/women living with Heer in her marital home. And for most part, these women remain in the shadows. We don't know who they are, what their stories are...in fact till  the very end of the book, I didn't know who apart from her mother-in-law and children lived in this house and there were apparently many women living there. Who were they? 

3. The husband, Pir Sain was a monster. He was a terrible tyrant and a complete asshole! It almost felt like he wasn't human. Durrani does a very good job at making him into a dreaded villain but...are people really this bad? Can power corrupt so thoroughly? I am sure there are people like this...worse than this, but he came a caricature more than a living, breathing person. 

4. There were some things in this book that just made it difficult to believe that this was a real story. The convenient happy ending was one the biggest reasons. *SPOILER ALERT* Heer just happens to meet her long-lost-love and in the end goes off with him! WHAT? That seems like....no life doesn't work like that. It was too simple. Too easy. And read too much like a romcom. 

Rating: 3/5 

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