Homosexuality and transgender. In Iran, one of these is illegal and punishable by beating, imprisonment, even death. The other is considered a medical condition, and can be corrected, legally and openly.
17-year-old Sahar dreams of being a doctor, and her best friend Nasrin dreams of marriage and wealth. One day, Nasrin’s parents announce that they have arranged her marriage to a kind and decent young doctor and Sahar’s heart stops.
When she was 6 years old, Sahar told her mother that she wanted to marry her best friend. Her mother told her to never speak of it again. The two girls have been in love for 11 long years of sharing stolen moments and secret touches and shy glances. But their relationship is illegal. And now their love may have to end, and Sahar can’t live with that.
Nasrin tries to believe that they can still carry on, but Sahar doesn’t want to share her with anyone. She wants to stop the marriage, end the secrecy. And she could. But only if she were a man.
So much happening in this novel. I had NO idea.
Sexual reassignment surgery is considered acceptable and also partially paid for by the Iranian government because there is nothing in the Koran that says it is sinful. A man trapped in a woman’s body (or vice versa) is to be pitied and helped, not scorned. Which is, obviously, for transgendered people, good. But that’s not to say it is an easy life for any of them; many are still abandoned and rejected by family and friends. And what it can lend itself to, on top of that, is some homosexuals having the surgery in order to avoid persecution. Which has to be as bad as the alternative.
This is the basis upon which this story is built.
Sahar sees only the possibility of a life with Nasrin but does not understand the cost. This naiveté is realistic, she does not live in a society where these important issues are discussed openly, especially with women, from what I understand. The fact that she first of all sees this as an alternative to her current predicament, believes that sex reassignment can happen quickly enough to stop the wedding, and never even discusses her idea with Nasrin serves to highlight not only her ignorance about what it means to be transgendered but also illustrates the oppressive life she already leads.
Both Nasrin and Sahar are difficult characters for me to like, even as I sympathize with their predicament. It is not a healthy relationship they share; hidden homosexuality aside, the balance of power is all with Nasrin and her beauty and charm, while Sahar is a shadow. Nasrin thinks of herself, how Sahar can make her happy, and Sahar thinks the same. Nasrin’s feelings are important, Sahar’s can be pushed aside. Her desire for Nasrin, the very depth of her love, never feels completely expressed or shared.
Ali is a fantastic example of a gay man living on the edge in Iran. He has a certain forced joie de vivre but recognizes the danger he lives in every step of the way. Author Sara Farizan has written a man that is in complete control, as much as he can be, who shows his personal side to very few, while living on the edge of terror.
Other family members such as Sahar’s father and Nasrin’s parents perfectly move the story along and offer insight into the conflict the girls and their families face.
Farizan offered a peek into the discussion of the trans experience in Iran, but I think missed the opportunity to go deeper. The support group had everyone from a family sanctioned post-op woman to a bitter, suicidal one who had the operation in order to fit in, but the conversation only ever touched the surface. But what a surface it disturbed.
While the pacing of the story was good overall, the ending felt a bit rushed with a convenient if not a happy conclusion to all of Sahar’s problems. While I wish it had been more complete, I’m not sure how else the story could end, unless tragically.
Finally, I couldn’t put this novel down. My heart broke for the two girls and the lie they were forced to live. It is a fascinating look into a hidden world that I had never even thought about. It is appropriate for everyone.
If You Could Be Mine was published August 20th, 2013 by Algonquin Young Readers.