Sometimes Being a Hero Means Saving Yourself !
A shy Arab mother makes an unwitting decision one stormy afternoon that puts her life in jeopardy and sends her on a journey that, ultimately, impacts the world in profound, and unexpected, ways.
After a horrific childhood experience in Yemen, 37 yr. old Basma Abseh, now in an arranged marriage, lives a safe, routine life in Queens, New York. While waiting at a bus stop, with the darkening clouds threatening a down pour, a red car pulls up driven by the dangerously handsome, 27 yr. old blond-haired man from the bakery where she buys bread. Against Muslim custom, Basma trustingly accepts a ride home. What follows is both provocative and disturbing. Soon Basma finds herself leading a double life that sets her on a collision course with her fundamentalist family. Surprisingly, the ordeal she experiences has transformative powers. When a long buried family secret is finally exposed, a new life beckons Basma to join forces with courageous women out to change the world. But, will she escape her family?
Set in present day cosmopolitan cities of New York, London and Paris with their burgeoning immigrant populations and spanning other international locales, UNBOWED weaves together three plot lines to illuminate the violent extremes some patriarchal cultures have gone to—to reinforce absolute power over women and girls—and the equally extreme, yet opposite, paths these women embark on to change the game.
Unbowed begins with Basma’s childhood. The Middle Eastern setting is pretty apt for the theme that the author rolls out later in the book, and she does a good job of explaining to us where her protagonist comes from and why she feels the way she does. It’s made evident that Basma has doubts about her customs and the way her family treats women from the word go.
Cut to her life in New York, living out the routine that most immigrant families in the United States do. At each point, the author has had the good sense to develop the plot sufficiently, and to give us a good, hard look at Basma – who is made exceptional–because she is so relatable. She’s no perfect woman, she’s not strong like most of the other female characters (and the book swarms with independent, passionate women), she has to struggle to find her way in life and she fights against intense feelings of shame and guilt when she goes against the lessons that have been drilled into her since childhood.
Couldn’t put it down. Can’t wait for the movie!
In terms of gender violence, Basma’s is a rare case because she chooses to escape from the violence and chaos in her life, and create a new purpose for herself. The story throws light on a common misconception with regard to this problem – the perpetrators are often the people that we know well and are close to.
“Basma’s personal journey is depicted with fine brushstrokes; incidents like the first time she enters a bakery she’s always wanted to; the first time she commits adultery. Running parallel to this are the efforts being taken to address women’s issues at the global level, via a UN Women’s Forum and a group of specialized, well-trained women fighters called WILA“.
“Kudos to the author for choosing this subject for a debut novel, it’s certainly not an easy one to start with”.
-Janani Hariharan, IndiaBookstore
Basma and Vincent’s affair keeps one entranced, engaged coupled with anticipatory sexual excitement. The entire book makes a statement on the woman’s right to choose.
This is not another pretty, romantic, story but it’s full of sensuality and intrigue. It will challenge what we think marriage and relationships are about. And, above all, how women allow themselves to be treated in the name of religion.
-Mzuri Moyo, singer, award-winning playwright
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