Book Reviews

Things She Could Never Have – Tehmina Khan

Home is not the place where you were born or where you grew up, nor family, the people you were born to or grew up around; rather, home is the place that makes you feel that you belong, and family are the people who accept you as theirs.

Short review:

This is short story collection about Pakistanis, either native or immigrants. Some stories are related, but most are standalone. The stories are drawn from different walks of life. A young boy becomes a terrorist to support his family, another girl becomes radicalised for lack of an identity. At the other end of the spectrum, a blast destroys a whole family. A transgender is banished from her own home, another is accepted inside the walls of her house, but not outside. Some girls think sexually liberated but in reality they are looking for that man in life who could be their saviour, but some are abused by men and cannot talk about it. Some are betrothed to men they have never met; while some are living with men they don’t think they know. Some are ostracised or not breaking a child, while some for being a widow. 

In what looks to be a glimpse into the daily lives of people from Pakistan, the author succeeds to highlight some of the most relevant social issues, without being cynical or didactic. The characters are actually a medium to point out the traditions in the society and the highlight the plights of those who are either weak, marginalised or misguided. What actually pains me is that sometimes women fall into all three of these categories. I liked the honesty and simplicity with which the characters are written down. While the situations that they are in are not something I can identify with; there are probably many Zohras I know and many Farahs I have read about recently.


My thoughts:

I thought about what I could pen down about this book. A full length review would not be much of a value add given the length of the book, so I just decided to pen down my thoughts on each of the stories. These could be taken as my interpretations or takeaways; but will hopefully leave you with some food for thought.

Whisperings of the devil: This story highlights the class difference present in our society; and how it is sometimes knowingly or unknowingly evident in our behaviour. Sometimes even a nonchalant demonstration of such behaviour can destroy lives. 

To Allah We Pray: Violence perpetrated in the name of religion can shatter families even though the perpetrators might not themselves be convinced of the cause. Also, what god would want violence as a mode to uphold his name, honour and belief. Bloodshed is against fundamental tenets of any religion. 

A stranger in my own home and Things she could never have: As a woman, I often complain of the gender discrimination present in the society. However, we still make up one half of the society and that is indisputable. However, transgenders are not even considered humans, and the society does not grant them basic human rights. What is most hurtful is the shunning by the families. A home is forever an unfulfilled longing in their hearts.

This is our secret: There are evils present in our society that we are afraid to talk about, and abuse is one of them. We teach our daughters to be independent, but ironically we also silence their voice against abuse in the name of family honour and prestige. We need to ask ourselves, is it honourable to let crime perpetrate?

The Engineer’s Bride and The First: These two stories are not connected, but they depict women’s take on relationships in two different eras. While way back in 60s-70s, women did not even have the liberty to meet the one they were betrothed to before marriage; over the years society evolved to a point where it was okay to get intimate before marriage; though illicitly. What remains constant is that the society has assumed that the sole motive of a woman’s life has to be to find a suitable partner, without whom she wouldn’t be complete.

Flying in Andalusia: This story provides an insight into the plight of a couple who were brought together by families, but are so incompatible, that the beautiful journey of life becomes a tiring excursion. It makes me wonder, is it okay to continue with relationships in which there is no love? And does a loveless marriage legitimise infidelity? 

Born on the First of July: A significant threat to the youth of our generation is radicalisation. Young folks going through an identity crisis often are easy targets to be recruited into extremist organisation. Is it belief that draws them or just the thrill of being a rebel aligned with a misguided cause?

Closed door: This story raises two very obvious questions of our times: is a woman worthless if she cannot be a mother and is it given that she would be a bad mother if she wants to pay attention to her professional goals as well? These generalisations are making gender equality an even more distant dream than it already is.

Stealing Apples from Heaven: This is a very sweet story which shows how sometimes children have a better understanding of priorities; that we must value people over things.

Come Listen to Me: This is a story about timeless and selfless love; the pain of partition and separation and social standing of a widow in the society. It makes me wonder what would be the intensity of love that would make one forget all sense of self; and if it is still found in today’s materialistic world. It also raises a question as to whether a women also loses the right to live with dignity the day her husband dies.

Overall rating: 3.75/5


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