May 14, 2013

The Harem - Safia Fazlul

I wanted to love this book; really I did!  When the publisher e-mailed me, asking to send me an e-copy for review, I was intrigued by the premise.  A young girl, raised in a strict household by parents from Bangladesh, within an Asian community located in a large Canadian city (never named as Toronto); asserts her independence by leaving her parents and eventually running an escort agency to try and buy her financial freedom.

A quick note on the format - this is the first time that I have reviewed an e-book on this blog.  I am opposed to e-books both on principle (an electronic copy seems so much less permanent than a physical book), as well as for the reading experience (I like being able to flip around and skim a book with ease).  That being said, I have both the Kobo and Kindle apps on my iPad, but I won't buy e-books.  I use the apps for reading at the gym - I can prop the iPad on the ledge of the machine and it won't fold shut the way a real book will; plus I can make the font size big which makes it easy to read while exercising!  Up until now, I have downloaded anything free from the Kobo and Kindle sites that looks like it will entertain me during my workouts; but most of what I have read in e-format isn't worth a review (with free books, you generally get what you pay for!).

Anyways, back to this book.  I didn't dislike it, but I didn't like it as much as I had hoped for.  Let me try to break it down a bit further...

Things I liked:

The premise.  Lots of the themes covered in this book are ones that I tend to be drawn to in literature.  It is a coming of age story; it deals with the immigrant experience; it points out the class inequality here in Canada.  And I have to say that I have never read a book that involves a group of young women essentially setting up a brothel (OK, a call service) and pimping out other young women.  The idea of the moral and ethical issues that this would present intrigued me.  And for the most part, these expectations were fulfilled.  Especially when the main character's best friend decides to work for them as a prostitute.

The atmosphere.  To me, this book reeked of darkness and rain, with a few bright spots of sunny daytime thrown in for contrast.  Most of the story seems to take place at night, or with the curtains drawn, or in the middle of a rainstorm; and the atmosphere was so well drawn that as I was reading it, I would occasionally look up from the book and out the window (remember that I'm reading this on the elliptical machine at the gym!) and be surprised at the blue sky and sparkling lake right in front of me.

Things I didn't like:

The writing.  I found much of the writing to be clumsy and the language over-wrought, and this did take away from my enjoyment of the book.  A sample picked at random from somewhere in the middle of the book:  "As my tired eyes hover over the stained bowl, I become aware of the mundane sounds of the world out there.  I never before paid attention to the chirping of birds; the tinkling melody of the ice cream truck; the idle prattle from the neighbours.  These sounds come from outside my window, so close.  But I'll never feel part of them again.  I have too many secrets."

The ending.  I felt that the story line and tension built up and built up and built up; and then all of a sudden, boom, story ended.  I found the ending to be particularly unsatisfying.  There were too many threads that tied up too quickly, and too many other threads that were left dangling.

So a mixed review overall.  I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it either.  This is Safia Fazlul's first novel, and there was enough about it that was good that I hope that she continues to write.  I feel as though she has a story that she wants to tell, a message that she wants to get out.  I will read any future books that she publishes.  Thank you to TSAR Publications for sending me a copy of this book.

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