Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Before She Sleeps - Bina Shah

Summary: In modern, beautiful Green City, the capital of South West Asia, gender selection, war and disease have brought the ratio of men to women to alarmingly low levels. The government uses terror and technology to control its people, and women must take multiple husbands to have children as quickly as possible.

Yet there are women who resist, women who live in an underground collective and refuse to be part of the system. Secretly protected by the highest echelons of power, they emerge only at night, to provide to the rich and elite of Green City a type of commodity that nobody can buy: intimacy without sex. As it turns out, not even the most influential men can shield them from discovery and the dangers of ruthless punishment.

This dystopian novel from one of Pakistan’s most talented writers is a modern-day parable, The Handmaid’s Tale about women’s lives in repressive Muslim countries everywhere. It takes the patriarchal practices of female seclusion and veiling, gender selection, and control over women’s bodies, amplifies and distorts them in a truly terrifying way to imagine a world of post-religious authoritarianism. (Summary and pic from

My Review: Unless you have been hiding under a rock (and it would have to be a literal rock at this point) you are probably aware that dystopian fiction is a big thing these days. Is it because things are going really well in our society and therefore we have doomsday scenarios to spice up our lives? Or are things going poorly and stressful so people see dystopian fiction as a warning sign of things to come, whether it is inevitable or just a warning? I would argue that there are both. There are books like the Hunger Games trilogy that maybe were just for entertainment and good old-fashioned fun and drama, and then there are books of warning like The Handmaid’s Tale, and I’d say this book fits easily in the latter category.

Whether or not you agreed with the outcome of the past presidential election, it is obvious that some women felt threatened by the turn politics have taken. Again, you may or may not agree with this, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t many women who feel like their status in society has slipped. This book is a reflection of that, and a dystopian fiction where women are no longer half of the population, and therefore their status has been seriously upgraded, but in a definitely skewed dystopian fashion wherein they have very little freedom of choice or opportunity. Indeed the whole society has suffered; both men and women have been oppressed and are under intense struggles and strife due to the epic disaster that caused the dystopian world.

This book was creepy and unsettling, just as all good dystopian fiction should be. Although there are those books that focus a lot of their story on the event/s that caused the collapse of the society, this book was more about what came about because of it. As with other good dystopian fiction books, this one created unique sub-cultures within the society of people who were forced to survive and what they did. I actually think this book could have other novels that occurred in the dystopian world, where the author could shift her focus to another part of society that was just touched on, whereas this focused mainly on a group of women who were basically comfort objects for sleep (actual sleep, not sex).

I enjoyed the writing in this book. Each chapter would switch to a different narrator, which definitely worked in this book, although I don’t think the voices were really very different from each other. If there weren’t titles for each chapter I wouldn’t have known who was who. However, that doesn’t matter so much because there were titles for each chapter and therefore I was definitely aware who was who.

The story in this book was compelling, and I think that it could have been even more in-depth. As mentioned above, I think there could have been even more to it, and maybe there could be more in a series or even a trilogy. The ending definitely left an opportunity for a sequel. I would have also liked to learn more about the culture. I think knowing more about the culture makes it scarier because you know how far they’ve come from normal once the dystopian world takes place.

Overall, I’d say this is a solid dystopian novel that offers a unique perspective on what it would be like if women became a limited commodity.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This novel is pretty clean. There are disturbing situations, as in any dystopian novel.

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