Mini-Review: If You Could Be Mine: A Novel, Sara Farizan (2013)

August 4th, 2014 12:37 pm by Kelly Garbato

An Engaging Exploration of Sexuality & Gender Identity in Iran

four out of five stars

Sahar is seventeen and in love – with her best friend Nasrin. In Iran, homosexuality is a crime punishable by imprisonment, corporal punishment, and even execution, forcing the young women to keep their relationship – and sexuality – a secret. But when Nasrin’s family arranges a “suitable” marriage for her, each girl struggles to find a way to hold onto the other. Nasrin’s solution? An extramarital affair – which can also earn you the death penalty. Meanwhile Sahar, emboldened by a chance meeting with trans woman Parveen, hatches a misguided plan to undergo a sex change operation so that she can marry Nasrin herself.

Iran is home to more such surgeries than any country save for Thailand; typically they’re even funded in part by the state. Yet this development is far from positive, as the government views sex changes as a handy “cure” for homosexuality: a way to align one’s sexual orientation with one’s gender. Thus, many gay and lesbian Iranians are pressured to undergo such surgeries (including under threat of imprisonment); and, while arguably more acceptable than homosexuality, transgender Iranians are met with discrimination and oppression just the same. Meanwhile, gay and lesbian cissexuals who undergo coercive sex reassignment surgeries are trapped in a prison of a different kind; one possibly worse than any concrete and steel cell erected by a government: bodies which are not their own.

Sarah Farizan’s debut novel is brimming with characters you want to root for – people who are flawed and complicated but also (mostly) sympathetic and relatable. People who are doing their best to get by in a society that doesn’t accept them, and who they are, at the deepest, most fundamental levels. People like Sahar’s cousin Ali, who serves as Sahar’s mentor and guide to Tehran’s gay subculture (“Iran’s gay messiah,” Sahar observes wryly); Parveen, a trans woman who takes Sahar under her wing; Sahar’s Baba, the charmingly clueless Mr. Ghazvini, who fell into a deep depression after the death of his wife, Hayedeh; and of course Sahar and Nasrin, whose illicit relationship was doomed from the beginning. These characters will stick with you long after their story ends.

There’s quite a bit of grief and heartache here, but it’s tempered by Sahar’s wit and Ali’s optimism, even in the face of violent persecution. Farizan’s prose is lovely and engaging; I found If You Could Be Mine terribly difficult to put down, and in fact I devoured it in just several sittings over a marathon 12-hour reading session. (I realize that some book bloggers are known to read one book in a night, but this is unheard of for me!)

I eagerly await the release of Farizan’s sophomore effort, Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel – another tale of girl-on-girl love featuring a woc protagonist.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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