Review: Book explores LGBT issues in Iran

Aug. 02, 2013 @ 10:33 AM

“If You Could Be Mine”

By Sara Farizan (Algonquin Young Readers, $16.95)

Sahar, the narrator of author Sara Farizan’s first novel “If You Could Be Mine,” and her  best friend Nasrin have been in love since they were young children. Now in their teens, they struggle with how to express their love in a country where their feelings are forbidden.
Farizan, the daughter of Iranian immigrants, did not grow up in Iran, but she draws on that heritage in this novel. She did months of research, including several visits to Iran, and finally “felt equipped to write a world for my protagonist, Sahar, to inhabit,” Farizan says in Algonquin’s press materials.
She has created a convincing portrait of everyday life in post-revolutionary Iranian society. Sahar is one of the most likeable book characters you will meet, a “good kid” who studies and wants to be a surgeon, and also is empathetic. She spends that empathy on her father (Baba), a master furniture maker who, five years after the death of his wife (Maman) is nearly catatonic with depression. She also spends it on Nasrin, whom she loves, but who is needy and lacks Sahar’s focus and work ethic.
When Nasrin’s family announces that she will be wed to a doctor named Reza in an arranged marriage, Sahar is distraught. Nasrin does not want to marry Reza, but is also attracted to the economic stability he can offer, and does not want to confront her family. They discuss how they can continue their love, but Sahar refuses to commit adultery.
Sahar seriously ponders having a sex change operation (which the Iranian government sanctions, although it does not approve of homosexual relationships). Sahar’s motive is not just love for Nasrin: She also envies the everyday freedom men have in dress and deportment, as well as greater economic opportunity. She must figure out how to reconcile who she is in the country that is her home, in spite of the draconian demands it makes on women.
While Farizan deals with LGBT issues in this book, she also is writing about the choices all young adults must face. Sahar must find her place in her family, decide which career to follow, and figure out how to let go of a first love – universal themes in all cultures.