The population has been decimated by war and sickness, and few women are left in Green City. To solve the problem men created the Perpetuation Bureau, and women now have a single purpose in life: to be a Wife and have as many children as possible with her multiple husbands. Not becoming a Wife is a crime, but a place called the Panah offers sanctuary to women who refuse to live by the rules of this draconian system. Instead they come out at night, offering carefully selected men something they can’t get anywhere else—non-sexual intimacy with a woman. They have the illusion of freedom, but the women of the Panah can never be truly free when the discovery of one can be the ruination of them all.
The story is told from multiple viewpoints, mostly from the viewpoints of specific women residing in the Panah. Much of the focus is on a woman named Sabine, the main female protagonist. The story is also moved forward through the eyes of two different men, each of whom play an important role in the later part of the novel. With clearly marked chapters, it’s never a challenge to know whose point-of-view you’re currently reading, however.
For the most part, I enjoyed reading this book. The idea that men would be starved for intimacy that excluded sex is somewhat of a stretch, but it is presented in a believable way in the book. I liked the characters, and was interested in what would happen next for each of them, especially where Sabine was concerned. The latter portion of the book had some intense events going on that had me holding my breath and dreading what might happen… then I reached the end of the book.
If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you know that one of my pet peeves, when it comes to books, is loose ends. It drives me up the wall when gasp-worthy things happen in a book, with zero resolution for the character it happened to before the story ends. I get it:Sometimes the reader has to fill in the blanks about what happened with their own imagination, because the author chose to leave that tiny bit of mystery at the end. There are times it works beautifully—for example, Gone with the Wind leaving open the question of whether or not Scarlett got back together with Rhett. But there are some questions that NEED to be answered, or it tarnishes the reading experience as a whole. The questions left unanswered in Before She Sleeps were (for me) things that needed to be addressed, not left in limbo. I may be in the minority in that opinion, as I’ve felt dissatisfied with the way other dystopias ended, whereas others applauded the endings.
I’m glad I read this book, though, and look forward to seeing what other readers think about it!
About the Book
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.
About the Author
BINA SHAH is a writer of English fiction and a journalist living in Karachi, Pakistan. She is the author of four novels and two collections of short stories, including Slum Child, which was a best seller in Italy. A regular contributor to the International New York Times, she is a provocative and bold commentator for the international press on Pakistan’s society, culture, and women’s rights. Her most recent novel, A Season for Martyrs, originally published by Delphinium in 2014, was published in France and India in 2016. She is a graduate of Wellesley College and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and an alum of the International Writers Program at the University of Iowa.