I received a copy of A Sister to Honor by Lucy Ferriss in exchange for an honest review.
Afia Satar is studious, modest, and devout. The young daughter of a landholding family in northern Pakistan, Afia has enrolled in an American college with the dream of returning to her country as a doctor. But when a photo surfaces online of Afia holding hands with an American boy, she is suddenly no longer safe—even from the family that cherishes her.
Rising sports star Shahid Satar has been entrusted by his family to watch over Afia in this strange New England landscape. He has sworn to protect his beloved sister from the dangerous customs of America, from its loose morals and easy virtue. Shahid was the one who convinced their parents to allow her to come to the United States. He never imagined he’d be ordered to cleanse the stain of her shame…
Lucy Ferriss succeeds at presenting a compelling and disturbing story with her novel A Sister to Honor that complicates rather tenfold the boy-meets-girl scenario. An exploration of culture clash, culture shock and cultural ignorance, A Sister to Honor is a tale at once utterly mundane and grotesquely strange.
It is difficult to assess this novel without some firsthand experience with Pakistani culture. And perhaps that is part of Ferriss’ purpose—to expose us to the depths of cultural ignorance that we share. As the world becomes more and more a global economy and shared experience, culture clashes will inevitably increase. Peoples who had no dealings with each other are quickly being thrust into close proximity and relationship. That is a trope here.
Afia and Shahid, two college-aged Pashtun kids from the mountain region of Pakistan, travel around the globe to attend college in the US New England region. At once, the United States is established as both a beacon of light for education and personal gain and as a demon death dealer defined by drone air strikes and military malfeasance. Their parents wish them the betterment that the US can afford but fear the cultural “disease” transmitted through a lack of American “values.” This is a quandary. Set in the hormone-riddled environment of an American college campus and chaos is sure to ensue.
And it does. But the nature of that chaos is so alien to most American readers that it must be natural to wonder if this could happen in real life. And yet, Ferriss assures us that her narrative is well researched, and other indicators in media evidence that the notion of honor in many cultures does indeed decide life or death.
This is not a light read. While a supremely readable text, the content and subject matter are heavy and Ferriss makes many issues unavoidable. If you have no desire to question gender roles, or the nature of family, the role of values, the absolutes vs. the negotiable—if you wish to live a life free of complexity and ethical questioning—this is not the book for you. However, if a reader with cultural curiosity, the ability to take things with a grain of salt (question everything), and the desire to expand your definitions of right and wrong, this may indeed be a valuable 388 pages.
While I can’t say that I liked this book, because much in it is simply repugnant—I quite literally had a bad taste in my mouth after finishing the novel—I found value in reading it. The human condition is so intriguingly presented here—Ferriss draws parallels that erase boundaries and unite us as human beings, even as she highlights those norms and beliefs that set factions at war. Ferriss’ own work at understanding and speaking these issues is valuable and well worth the reader’s time to consider them.
Rating: 4 Stars