Bride with a blood stained flower

Soul Tracing: Taboo by Ifraah Samatar and Irsha Akbar: Book Review

I love books that have meaning and stories that have a purpose. Soul Tracing: Taboo affected me at various levels. It’s a story with some powerful writing that you cannot ignore irrespective of your agreement or disagreement with the narrative.

To begin with, it’s a typical love story with quite a predictable plot. What kept me going was the curiosity to know how the authors will choose to end it, and it was CLEVER.

I applaud the authors for this singular way of telling the story of a naïve, hopeless girl full of dreams. And, because this topic is so close to my heart, and because I loved the authors’ take on this whole scenario, I felt huge disappointments along with the story as well.

On most occasions throughout the book, the story sounded like fantasy and rightly so… I kept on wondering (rather bickering) how the authors could approach such a sensitive subject with such insensitivity. At first, the novel sounded like another M&B with a religious tarka.

And that’s exactly where the story takes upon the controversy!

The novel takes an apologetic approach that many well-meaning Muslims do take — Shift the blame to culture and individuals in order to relieve the religion off of any blame.

And, this novel blames them both. However, culture (mostly Pakistani) remains the focal point. True! Pakistani culture is a complex religiocultural mishmash; however, not quite the way authors have portrayed it.

I felt angry and then sad by the wrong suggestion that our culture is oppressive, and somehow true practice and understanding of religion will liberate us and even allow us the practices that are otherwise looked down upon by our culture as well as religion.

Cultures run deep; they are as old as the human race itself. Cultural evolution is synchronous with the very struggles and evolution of humans over generations.

If Yasmin was a single person, the readers who could relate to Yasmin would have felt understood, and those who couldn’t relate to her would still be able to connect with her on a human level.

But by generalizing, the authors have imposed the realities of a small segment (if we look at the bigger picture) on a large section of society who understand their religion better than Yasmin’s father, who take pride in their rich culture and who don’t impose the disgusting double standards and ridiculous restrictions as vehemently as the characters in this story.

This generalization did certainly rubs me the wrong way. I had to struggle to relate and sympathize with Yasmin.

Yasmin’s discussion with Faiza about marriage is also disturbing because the idea was (again) wrongly generalized. It also raises a question on the understanding of the authors of the culture they’re opinionating about.

An excellent example of approaching difficult topics is Honour by Elif Shafak. She tells the story of a single woman. But, is that really the story of a single woman? Elif leaves it up to the readers. 

Soul Tracing: Taboo is disturbing at many levels.

Perhaps the most important question it raises is:

What is liberation?

Is wearing revealing clothes and undergoing the ultimate Taboo (as the authors put it) an epitome of liberation? OR is it mere defiance?

What’s the difference between Abbas and Dean?

If Dean can be excused due to his childhood trauma, why can’t Abbas be excused too? Getting raised in an idiotic religious family is no less of a trauma.

For me, the conversation between Abbas and Amir is as disgusting as between Dean and Seb. Who is Yasmin to decide that Dean isn’t a monster despite all, but Amir and Abbas are?

Shifting the blame from religion to culture is an ever-increasing narrative because it allows common people to easily dissociate from the crimes committed in the name of religion. Isn’t it a bigger sin than the lies told by Yasmin?

Sonia Ahmed is a short story writer and critic. She writes fiction that stays true to the non-fictitious unvoiced sections of the society. She enjoys writing opinion articles close to her heart. Health and fitness writer by day, she looks for positivity in this increasingly chaotic world.
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September 2021
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