Under The Same Stars by Suzanne Fisher Staples
|Under The Same Stars by Suzanne Fisher Staples|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: Fisher Staples offers a highly emotionally charged romantic adventure story that deals sensitively with a culture alien to many and lyrically with a land and people of great diversity and beauty.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 352||Date: September 2007|
|Publisher: Walker Books Ltd|
Shabanu was brought up as a nomad in the Cholistan Desert of Pakistan. She loved the wild beauty and despite the hard life, cherished its relative freedom. But now Shabanu is away from the desert and her family. She is the youngest of Rahim's four wives and she lives with her five year old daughter, Mumtaz, in the family compound. Rahim is a rich landowner and politician and is often away from home, leaving Shabanu and Mumtaz prey to the jealous machinations of the older wives.
Eventually, Shabanu persuades the besotted Rahim to allow her and her daughter to escape to the old family home in Lahore, away from the scheming and plotting and petty cruelties. But in Lahore, a new set of problems present themselves - Shabanu becomes embroiled in a plot to save her only friend Zabo from a disastrous arranged marriage with Ahmed, Rahim's mentally handicapped son. She also, frighteningly and unexpectedly, falls in love with the most unsuitable man in the world...
Under the Same Stars is a such a romantic and feminine book. It's the sort of thing I'd avoid like the plague if it were written for adults. And yet, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Everything about it is womanly - it's about an unknown, exotic world that seems to have pleasures and pains common to women everywhere. The hook is that the practicalities of these pleasures and pains are very different in Pakistan. Even as an adult, I found the pull of a familiar emotional landscape coupled with a very different cultural environment very strong.
In a world of formality, rigid social structure and arranged marriages, the women are not presented as weak and helpless. Far from it. Shabanu is an incredibly strong person and while she is practically proscribed, she is able to develop a strong and stable inner life that would be the envy of many - supposedly free - women in the west. Her answers to the moral conundrums with which she is presented may be very different to those her readers will expect - she chooses duty over passion, is willing to sacrifice her own happiness to achieve future happiness for her daughter and is able to delay gratification.
Fisher Staples doesn't gloss over the downsides to Pakistani society - the poverty, the sometimes unhappy arranged marriages, the violent vendettas. But she also describes its beauty and exoticism and shows her young western readers a woman who understands, accepts and partakes in her social situation, and finds much in it that is good - family ties, loyalty, commitment - and makes the most of them. Shabanu doesn't love Rahim with a Mills and Boon passion, but she is as loyal to her marriage as he is, and, albeit in a different way, is also as happy in it as he is.
It is a romantic adventure story and so the goodies are tremendously good and the baddies are tremendously bad. We girls don't mind that when we're in girly mode. In fact, we rather like it. And for tween and teen girls to read about a Pakistani woman, deeply immersed in Pakistani life, as a vital, strong character with passion to spare, inhabiting a living, breathing world both similar and different to their own, can only be a good thing.
My thanks to the nice people at Walker for sending the book.
Another romantic book set in a different cultural environment is Ruby Red by Linzi Glass, while Linda Newbery's Set in Stone is set in the past and as passionately romantic as anyone could wish it to be.
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