Ayesha Hussain’s book gives voice to the frustrations and anxieties of countless women that exist in our society. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the in-depth portrayal of the protagonist’s struggles and woes, gives every woman reading the book something to relate to.
Spread across five sections, with mostly bite-sized chapters in each, the style of writing is easy to read. Starting with a touching dedication “to all women and men, who have battled with dark days and persevered,” the book chronicles the different phases of Noor Aziz’s life starting from her marriage to a Zain Hamid. Immediately, you feel for Noor, who comes across like the girl next door; someone you’ve seen grown up and feel a certain warmth and affinity towards.
The book takes you on an intimate internal journey with Noor all throughout her early days of marriage, her roles as a wife, daughter and mother, and then eventually to the person she slowly becomes in spite of and despite the challenges she faces. The writing accurately portrays the emotions, fears and insecurities Noor battles during each phase of her life. As a reader, you too feel the constriction of her environment, as she struggles to find her feet in Zain’s house where she lives with her in-laws. You too celebrate her small wins, when she continues her education, or gets a job, or makes a home for herself. And you might also find it too familiar a story, when a little later in life, her role playing for the different relationships around her, leaves her feeling hollow and at a loss for her own identity as a person.
Her feelings and emotions are sometimes expressed beautifully. Especially how her hopes and dreams slowly transition into regret and resentment through a marriage almost always on a precipice. The despair is described in a genuinely honest, and at times, a poetic way. Noor also writes letters towards the end of the book, in an effort to extract understanding both within herself and from other people - all of which do a poignant job of tugging at your heart strings.
The book does tend to get heavy, with the gloom of Noor’s life sometimes becoming a little overwhelming, which could possibly be intentional on the author’s part. However, they are some chapters peppered across the tale, which provide a bit of relief. For example, the chapter portraying what a shadi waala ghar feels like with all the music and dance, food and family shenanigans. Then there’s the refreshing friendship Noor has with her childhood best friend Laila, showing readers the power and importance of a female support system in one’s life. Her relationship with her sons is also very endearing, and you almost always want more of their interactions.
Another layer of storytelling very creatively inserted into the narrative by the author, is the descriptive passages outlining Noor’s dreams. With dark undertones, abstract settings and scary creatures, the dreams are haunting but also pull you in as a reader. These become elements of the story that remain at the back of your head and create a sliver of suspense as you progress through the book.
Overall, the book in its entirety takes you on a complete journey with Noor; with a front row seat to all of her transformations. However, a greater nuance and balance between her struggles and her achievements would make for a more fulfilling read. There isn’t much given with regards to her success at work, the kind of project she undertakes and interactions she had, or the relationship with her boss, who gave a young inexperienced Noor a shot at a career for herself. As the spotlight remains on Noor, there are many characters who aren’t provided with much nuance, and come across as either good or bad. The apathetic Zain reads almost like a two dimensional character with no ambitions, complex emotions or passions to speak of. In other words, the one critique as a reader, you might have is to want to know more about Noor’s world, in more depths, and that’s not a bad thing,
There is a lot of credit due to the author for tackling subjects, we as a society, tend to brush under the rug; forced marriages, toxic joint family systems, depression, loneliness and much more. There is no doubt that reading this book and following Noor’s life from a naïve wide-eyed bride to a woman coming into her own, will not only provide a lot of women the feeling of being heard and seen, but also give them much-needed catharsis.