“Shackled Sisters” by Aisha A. Elahi

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

By Avital Datskovsky

Photo credit: Good Reads

Shackled Sisters, by Aisha A. Elahi, offers a poignant glimpse into the lives of South Asian women living in the United Kingdom. The book is comprised of interviews with and first-person narratives of South Asian women--some of whom still live in close-knit communities and some of whom have left the communities they grew up in.  The book is powerful on multiple levels; it serves both as a call to action for its reader and provides a deeply human and intimate portrait of each woman whose story it tells, highlighting the complexity of their lives and the communities that they live in.

Aisha A. Elahi is straight to the point in her prologue. Shackled Sisters is not meant to be a book that the reader picks up and the simply puts down when he or she is finished. The book is meant to raise awareness, to inform those who wish to work with women in the South Asian community in Britain about the complexity of the issues some of these women face. Elahi issues a call to numerous people--to service providers and other practitioners, to teachers, to members of the South Asian community, and to charities to learn from this book and develop support networks that are informed by an understanding of the challenges these women may face.

In Shackled Sisters, very little is cut and dry. The women discuss painful struggles between the Western world they live in and the confining, yet familiar communities they grew up in. The most poignant stories in Shackled Sisters are the ones where the woman sharing her story grapples with her connections to the Western world--and must decide if marrying her boyfriend or adopting a new lifestyle is worth leaving behind the familiar world she grew up in and the family she loves. Relationships are not portrayed as black and white in Shackled Sisters. In one powerful story, the main character leaves her boyfriend who her parents won’t accept and goes back to her family. She realizes she wants a wedding where her parents will give her away, that her community will attend, she realizes she wants to marry into a family that enjoys Bollywood films just as much as she does. In another powerful story, two sisters talk about their decisions to live in a secular world and how that affects their relationship with their parents.

It is this characteristic of the book--that so little is ordinary--that is perhaps what is most powerful and poignant about the book. The stories in Shackled Sisters are deeply human and deeply intimate. The reader learns about each woman’s secrets, desires, and dreams, their struggles with identity, and their experiences discovering their sexuality. Elahi’s narratives of each woman allow the reader to connect with each woman on a personal level. It is through these narratives that Elahi issues a call to action and creates an awareness that is highly profound. 

Visit the author's website: http://www.aishaelahi.com/

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