Sunday, January 29, 2012

Beneath My Mother's Feet by Amjed Qamar

Title: Beneath My Mother's Feet
Author: Amjed Qamar
Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Release Date: June 17, 2008
Pages: 198 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: Checked it out of the school library.

Beneath My Mother's FeetBeneath My Mother's Feet

"Our lives will always be in the hands of our mothers, whether we like it or not."

Nazia doesn't mind when her friends tease and call her a good beti, a dutiful daughter. Growing up in a working-class family in Karachi, Pakistan, Nazia knows that obedience is the least she can give to her mother, who has spent years saving and preparing her dowry. But every daughter must grow up, and for fourteen-year-old Nazia that day arrives suddenly when her father gets into an accident at work, and her family finds themselves without money for rent or food.

Being the beti that she is, Nazia drops out of school to help her mother clean houses, all the while wondering when she managed to lose control of her life that had been full of friends and school. Working as a maid is a shameful obligation that could be detrimental to her future--after all, no one wants a housekeeper for a daughter-in-law. As Nazia finds herself growing up much too quickly, the lessons of hardship that seem unbearable turn out to be a lot more liberating than she ever imagined.


As the second of four children of a working-class Pakistani family and the eldest daughter, Nazia has spent most of her life being a good daughter to her mother and preparing for her impending marriage. Then her life falls apart: her father gets in an accident, her brother disappears, her dowry is stolen, and Nazia and her mother are reduced to cleaning the houses of the wealthy. Time passes and the childlike innocence Nazia once had is stripped away from her. There is no room for it when she must work morning to evening to support herself and her family. The lessons she learns about life, who she is, and who she wants to become, she finds a freedom she never thought she could have.

At the beginning of the novel, I worried this would not be a good one for me. The writing lacked the resonance and flair that most novels I like have and it moved slowly. As I pushed on and approached the end of Beneath My Mother's Feet, I gained a new appreciation for the messages it is trying to get across and for Nazia's character. I did not forget how difficult it was to keep reading because I was bored and took that into consideration while writing this review, but I'm glad I stuck with it.

The novel is mostly character-driven by Nazia and her growth as a character, from a young girl who will soon be married to her cousin Salman and believes whole-heartedly that her father is doing what is best for his family to a woman at the age of fourteen who sees the world is not so lovely and her father does not care about his family the way she believes he does. That she was forced to make this necessary transition so roughly broke my heart a little bit.

Beneath My Mother's Feet tends to portray most men in the novel badly, but I can see this is for a greater purpose: illustrating how women are forced to be heavily dependent on the men in their lives. If the men turn against them as Abbu, Bilal, and Uncle Tariq turned against Nazia and Amma, they have little chance of getting anywhere in life or living well. Women are punished (in a manner of speaking) for working to get what they want or need; it makes them less valuable as a wife. Thus the men must support them to keep them from working. What happens when the men do not do what they "should" do? They fall into situations like Nazia's or worse.

Their heavily misogynistic culture bothers me and I feel horrible for criticizing their way of life, but it is what it is and I feel the way I feel about it. Oppression in the name of religion or culture sickens me. My support of feminism is deeply ingrained in me as well and reconciling it with the book to an acceptable point so I could enjoy the novel was difficult. Every time I'd gotten there, yet another reminder of how dependent the women are or how they are punished for working to get what they need would make me start all over again. Feminism still has a long way to go around the world.

As the coming-of-age tale of a young girl and a social commentary of the difficult dependency of women on men in Pakistan, Beneath My Mother's Feet succeeds and turns out to be a fairly well-written novel and worth the time I've spent on it. I'm glad I didn't give up on it like I considered doing multiple times.

4 stars!

What am I reading next?: Delirium by Lauren Oliver