If you want to read a beautiful memoir about growing up as a woman in a muslim culture in the 1940s and 1950s, look no further! This is the book for you.
What “Stay, Daughter” Is About
Yasmin Azad’s memoir starts in her childhood, with her growing up in Galle Fort, in Sri Lanka. She is lucky enough to have parents who are a bit more open minded than most so she is allowed to go to school. Until she is around the age of twelve (when she has to start staying indoors at all times – the moment she is not a child anymore, but becomes an unmarried woman) she can even play outside, ride a bike or have non-muslim friends.
Her story is not only her story. Through her eyes, we meet and judge her family, friends and muslim traditions. However, most of all, we observe how the western way of living creeps into everything, changing lives. In a way, I felt this is the main topic of the book.
I enjoyed “Stay, Daughter” a little less than I expected, because of just one thing. I think it’s a great book, a fascinating one and I am so, so glad I read it, but I never became attached to the narrator.
The young Yasmin observes everything and keeps her opinions to herself. She didn’t have a voice as a child or as a young woman. In her environment, that is natural, but I feel she still doesn’t have a voice in this book. A memoir should read much more personal, but her feelings are nonexistent.
The interesting thing is that the book is still great. With or without a spectacular main character to root for, it has a lot of value. We get a perspective into a different culture. It is basically a very detailed comparison between two ways of living. Through this book alone I got a detailed understanding of traditions and how they have changed along with the women’s prolonging their education.
Another fascinating aspect were the muslim family dynamics. The narrator is able to detail intricate relationships, unveil layers of gossip, shame and “what will people say?” into a relatable story. Everyone feels reduced to silence at some point by some elder relative, everyone is concerned by what people they look up to will say… We get to see these universal feelings put in a different context, in a foreign country, 50 years ago and we can relate today. That is good writing!
…On the Characters
I have already stated my opinion on the main character – Yasmin. She is the narrator. It is her story. She is also the one that remains an enigma for me. She tells us everything we need to know about the other characters – her family, even her family history in detail, yet we know next to nothing about her.
We see her as a child trying to fit in with a western family. She has a friend, Penny, who she is always trying to impress. She feels ashamed of her family whenever more progressive people are around. She hides her feelings, hides her thoughts. Ever so often, she wants something her friends have – like to ride a bike or to go to school. She pleads one time and then just waits. Whatever happens, she accepts her fate and what her family chooses for her.
This way of being – indecisive, accepting, mousy, bland… I just couldn’t get behind it. I completely see how it worked into getting her, in the end, whatever she wanted, it was definitely smart and, ultimately, the only solution she had, but it felt so weak to see it over and over in the book.
Her father, on the other hand, he felt larger than life. It seemed to me like he was the main character. We see him in all his glory, we see him beaten down and aged. He is all powerful, protective and good hearted, yet he will uphold his family’s honour through any means.
Her mother is an interesting character as well. She has her own means of getting what she wants too. She stands up to society whenever she gets the chance, for anything she believes in. She is the one who actually helps Yasmin complete her education.
It is interesting how women are portrayed here. They all seem to have their means to get their needs met, as long as that won’t harm their families. They always see the limits and are relentless in trying to push them, just a little bit every day – too much and someone would figure them out. Bit by bit, they gain more freedom.
…On the Writing
This was a fascinating read! I love learning about traditions and other cultures. The way everything was described here seemed so genuine! The details, the observations, seeing everything through the eyes of a person who understands two cultures so well was amazing! Experiencing the changes in a society is never easy. The way the narrator understands them and is able to translate them for a western audience is incredible. I can honestly say I loved everything about this book, except for Yasmin’s behaviour and even that, is, of course understandable.
This book is perfect for a deep dive in a muslim culture. It was a fast and fascinating read and I absolutely recommend it!
✨✨✨You can find the book on Goodreads here:✨✨✨