Some books surprise you more than you ever thought they would. For me, What We Owe by Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde was one of those books. I was really excited about reading it, as the blurb sounded really interesting. After I started reading, however, I got confused and a little irritated, I wasn’t so sure the book I was reading was the same book the blurb described.
I continued reading, though, and after a while, I could not put What We Owe down. It was 2.30 in the morning and I really wanted to go to sleep as I was pretty tired, however, I could not stop reading. I had to finish What We Owe.
The book is written in first-person narration and follows Nahid. Nahid is diagnosed with cancer. After the diagnosis, she thinks back to her live in Iran, how she became a refugee and fled to Sweden. She looks back on her relationships with her mother, sisters, ex-husband and daughter. So, the blurb talked more about Nahid’s live in Iran and how she was part of the Iranian Revolution in the 1970s than the cancer diagnosis or the fact that most of the book takes part in today’s Sweden.
This irritated me a little bit at the beginning as I was expecting a different novel. Especially because the chapters read more like Nahid writing notes about her life than anything else. However, I got hooked pretty fast and all that disappointment was forgotten. Nahid is an interesting character. She is probably the most unlikable main character I read about in a while. You can tell, from the first chapter on, that Nahid is bitter, cold and unhappy with her life. As the book goes on and you read more and more about Nahid’s past, you get to understand why she is the way she is. That doesn’t make her more likeable, though.
Part of Nahid’s bitterness is seen in the way she interacts with her own daughter, Aram. While she maintains ever so often how much she loves Aram, at the same time she mentiones how much she hates being a mother. She uses her daughter as an “excuse” for fleeing her country, only to begrudge the fact that Aram never had to suffer as much as she did. She even faults her daughter for not saving her from her abusive husband, not, however, the husband who abuses her. Domestic violence and the dynamics between the affected parties is not always easy for outsiders to understand, and I count myself as a lucky outsider on this topic, but it made it so hard to like Nahid.
So while Nahid was my least favourite part about the book, what happened to Nahid in Iran happens to be my favourite. I know how weird that sounds, trust me. Nahid’s past, her family dynamics and the Iranian Revolution were so interesting. I could have spent the entire book just in that time period. The Iranian Revolution and what happened to Nahid, her future husband, and her little sister Noora, are the reason for Nahid’s bitterness and guilt. It changed her life and her relationships with her family forever. I won’t spoil what happened, though.
Also, this book got me hooked on the Iranian Revolution. I read several historical recollections about it and have found a few books that sound really interesting about that topic. So, if you know any good books about the Iranian Revolution or set during that time, please let me know.
Overall, I think What We Owe is a fantastic read and a wonderful character study as you get to dive deep into Nahid’s character and see how certain things changed her. I really enjoyed reading it so much, apart from initial difficulties. It should come as no surprise to you that I recommend reading this book.
Are you interested in reading What We Owe? Have you read it before? What did you think? I would love to read your thoughts in the comments.
* ad: This book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Netgalley!
Title: What We Owe/Was bleibt von uns
Author: Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Nagel & Kimche
Publishing Date (first publication): 16-10-2018/20.08.2018