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N H Sakhia
In Women We Trust

Adult; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Market)

An intense story of an uneven conflict where Sardar Timur Barlas, an almighty, powerful, and influential landlord in a remote town in Pakistan goes against Zara Bibi & her husband Shams – his lowly, poor, and helpless servants. While trying to protect her master’s interest, Zara Bibi opens up gates of hell for her only son Gul when she discovered him holding Timur’s young daughter Farah in an unholy embrace in presence of a crowd she had gathered. Gul accidentally walked into undesired and untimely adolescence which his mother turned into a deadly minefield for him. All-powerful Sardar Timur calls for a façade of a trial with unspeakable consequences for the poor family. Mullah Aziz, the leader of the town’s largest mosque, renowned for his firebrand sermons and radical idealism, is called forth to gather a jury of sorts, along with a morally conflicted journalist Turab to provide legal cover for Sardar Timur’s vigilante justice. The predetermined sentence for Gul, regardless of his guilt or innocence, would deprive him of the essence of a male child. Zara Bibi and her husband are offered a horrendous choice to present their only daughter Noor to accept the grave punishment in place of her brother so he can remain a whole man. The very men of the home Zara Bibi and Noor looked for protection are forced to ask that their women sacrifice themselves so their ‘maleness’ can be saved. In this heart-wrenching account of hellish circumstance, the story critiques issues of patriarchy, misogyny, unequal treatment of genders, the mistreatment of women, debate about female empowerment perceived to have run amok, and a debased and regressive society—all with insurmountable compassion for its people, the culture, and unrelenting hope for a just and better life.
Attorney Sakhia’s tense English debut novel draws attention to the societal inequities in a small Pakistani town when a servant's son is found in a compromising position with a landowner’s daughter. In Hayatabad, Pakistan, landowner Sardar Timur Barlas exerts his power as he plans to inflict punishment on Gul, son of housekeeper Zara Bibi, when Gul is discovered in a kitchen pantry in an improper embrace with Sardar’s daughter, Farah. Mullah Aziz, imam of the largest town mosque, is appointed to select members for the Panchayat, an unofficial tribunal responsible for deciding Gul’s guilt or innocence. Zara Bibi’s only hope to see Gul avoid the punishment of castration is to sacrifice her daughter, Badri, whom Sardar wants to be “given” to his men for three nights. Zara Bibi faces a decision that no mother should be forced to make--and if she doesn’t choose which child will suffer, Sardar will decide for her. As the Panchayat convenes, Mullah Aziz’s acquaintance, Turab, a journalist, documents the trial and questions the truth behind the accusations against Gul.

Sakhia deftly explores the injustices faced by those in subservient positions in Pakistan, vividly exposing brutality and corruption. The novel also highlights the disparate treatment of women as Sardar’s and Mullah Aziz’s wives must be deferential to their husbands' decisions, and Badri suffers a vicious assault.

Sakhia focuses on disparate characters, revealing how Badri dreams of her grandmother Mimi Jan while she is in pain, and Mullah Aziz’s arrogance in controlling those who come to his mosque. These narratives initially appear unrelated, slowing the flow of the novel’s opening, but Sakhia adeptly connects them, rewarding patient readers. This in-depth study of life in a small town in Pakistan, the first installment in a series, richly outlines class and gender inequities while embracing believable, well-developed characters and a cliffhanger conclusion.

Takeaway:This intense novel of power in a Pakastani village reveals urgent truths and will keep readers turning the pages.

Great for fans of: Sejal Badani’s The Storyteller’s Secret, Madhuri Vijay’s The Far Field.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B
Marketing copy: A