A Sister to Honor by Lucy Ferriss

I’m really not sure about this one.  I think I’m going to have to stop reading books with which I have personal experience (at least for a bit).  It seems to me that when I read such books, I often give them a Leave It rating because it doesn’t fit in with my own experiences.  My review and rating of A Sister to Honor is going to continue that pattern.

A Sister to Honor is about a Pashtun sister and brother who come to the US to go to school (which is super common; I have a cousin here for that reason).  In case you don’t know what Pashtun is, you can read about it on Wikipedia, but the super short explanation is that it’s an ancient tribal way of life (ridiculously conservative and strict).  The thing is that even with the brother and sister (Shahid and Afia) in the US, the Pashtun rules still apply (at least as far as their family is concerned, back in Pakistan).  A Sister to Honor is about the consequences when Afia falls in love with an American boy.

Here’s the thing.  As far as I know (which is very little), the idea of A Sister to Honor is realistic.  And while I don’t agree with the Pashtun way of looking at things, I understand their concepts of honor (it’s somewhat similar to the idea of women being “ruined” in the nineteenth century and earlier in the US and other western countries).  I guess what bothers me about A Sister to Honor is that is seems so believable.  In some ways that’s a really good thing.  But in today’s political climate, I just plain don’t like it.  I’m half Persian.  My dad was a first-generation immigrant from before the Iranian Revolution, and I’ve been living with anti-Middle Eastern prejudice since the first Gulf War.  I know I’m not the only one.  And with the whole ISIS nightmare, the prejudice is only getting worse.

That’s why I’m not recommending A Sister to Honor.  While it’s a good book, I just can’t bring myself to recommend a book that will serve to justify (for lack of a better word) the prejudices against Middle Eastern people. Don’t get me wrong.  A Sister to Honor is very respectful and doesn’t make all Pashtuns look like evil psychopaths (just one such character is in the story), it’s just that as of right now, any excuse for hate is just not something I can encourage.

[Update: Lucy commented that there were a couple of errors in my original review. I corrected where I had said Afia was from Afghanistan. She is actually from Pakistan. The other error, where I mention this book potentially reinforcing prejudice about the Middle East, is not an error. I understand that Pakistan is not the Middle East. My point is that many other people do not.]

A Sister to Honor is the book that takes place in Asia for the Read Harder Challenge and the book by a female author for the Ultimate Reading Challenge.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Lucy Ferriss

    Leila, thank you for your review and your thoughts. I do want to clarify that Pashtun people are not Middle Eastern. They are from northern Pakistan and the adjacent area of Afghanistan — south Asia, basically. And the traditions that govern the Pashtun way of life are not so much Islamic as tribal, deriving from customs and laws that pre-date Islam and have to do with ethnic identification more than religion. I realize that Americans may not make these distinctions, but I feel it is important for us, as authors and reviewers, to continue making them, for the very reasons you cite about combating prejudice.

    1. Leila

      Thank you for reading and commenting. I understand that Pashtuns aren’t Middle Eastern, but thank you for clarifying that the culture is more tribal/ethnic than religious. I would have loved to have seen some kind of author’s note or historical background in the book so that readers would understand these distinctions. As you say, they are crucial. Unfortunately, most Americans do consider Pashtuns fundamentalist Muslims as well as Middle Eastern and thus apply their prejudices and ignorance to all such peoples and cultures. If there had been an introduction or something similar to help make these distinctions I would probably have given the book a different rating. As I mentioned in the review, my personal experiences and heritage had a profound affect on my reading of the story. So while the distinctions are important for fighting prejudice, the unfortunate truth at the moment is that a story like this would have made my family’s life much harder had it been published and widely read when I was in high school (or even now if I had kept my maiden name). The rest of my dad’s side of the family is still struggling. Thank you for writing such a brave story. I don’t regret reading it.

      1. Lucy Ferriss

        Leila, I was disappointed to see you repeating your misunderstandings in an Amazon review. Pakistan is not Afghanistan; neither Pakistan nor Afghanistan is in the Middle East; pashtunwali is not an “ancient Islamic way of life.” Perhaps the misimpression stems from the book itself, but no other reader has been so seriously off base in terms of geography and history. It seems to me that, regardless of my book, you are harming your own cause by spreading such disinformation.

        1. Leila

          Lucy, that review was simply the copy and paste from the blog post. If you check out that review as well as the post here on the blog, you’ll see I’ve made some corrections this morning. Thanks for being persistent.

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