Pakistani-Australian Ameera has always done her best to be true to the requirements of her religion and to obey her father’s rules. But, when her friend’s brother catches her eye, she can’t resist forming a friendship with him. Her father is told a warped account of their interaction at a party and sends Ameera to Pakistan to spend time with her extended family and attend the wedding of her cousin. Once she gets there, however, she discovers that the bride-to-be is not her cousin, but rather herself.
Marrying Ameera is a gripping and uncomfortable tale of a girl’s struggle to resist an arranged marriage that will keep her in an unfamiliar country and away from her mother, brother, friends – and the boy she really loves. It’s the type of book that can’t help but fill a reader with impotent rage and it is frustrating in this regard, because of how deeply Hawke makes her audience feel the unfairness of the situation her protagonist is placed in. I greatly respect authors who can make me feel such intense emotions whilst reading their work, even if they can torture me a little at the time!
I don’t know how accurately Rosanne Hawke has captured the experience of a Pakistani girl being forced into a marriage she does not want and I’d be very interested to hear opinions of those who are a lot closer to that world than I (thankfully) will ever be. I can, however, say that I was very impressed with the way that she successfully avoided conflating religion with culture or a large group of people (in this case Pakistanis) with an element within that group. Marrying Ameera is not an anti-religious book or even an anti-Muslim book, and for that I was very grateful.
Ameera herself is a fantastic protagonist and feels very true to her cultural upbringing. She has a strong faith and is devoted to her family, which makes her story all the more powerful. If she were written to be just like her Anglo-Australian friends, the conflict in Marrying Ameera would become so much more one-dimensional. As it is, the novel is as much a story of her struggle to break free of her conditioning as it is a story of her horrible situation.
Given the topic of the novel, I was particularly pleased by the presence of several positive male characters, who supported Hawke’s message that crimes against women are perpetrated by individuals, rather than generalised races, religions or genders. Ameera’s brother, Riaz, is artfully drawn – combining realistic sibling indifference in the beginning with true love and dedication as the story unfolds. Tariq is portrayed as being so kind and understanding that it is not at all surprising that he earns Ameera’s love. And, in Pakistan, young Asher plays a relatively minor role for most of the story, but nonetheless sticks fast in the reader’s mind.
Marrying Ameera is not an easy book to read, but it is definitely a worthwhile one. Hawke is a strong writer, who combines an accessible young adult style with a dark and important story. One to make you think.
Warning: Contains rape.