author: Shafinaaz Hassim
publisher: WordFlute Press.
Set in Johannesburg, SoPhia is a love story. Not a romance but a tale about “hope, compassion and self-realisation.” SoPhia was shortlisted for the 2012/2013 University of Johannesburg Prize for Debut Novel in English.
SoPhia is the story of Zareen, a young mother of three who is being abused by her husband, Akram. Zareen hides this abuse from her loving parents who believe that she’s happily married.
Zareen is afraid of being a failure and of disappointing her family. So she has suppressed her quiet strength suppressed, along with her voice. Akram hides behind his anger, not willing to face his demons or take responsibility for the man he has become.
As things fall apart between Zareen and Akram, Zareen retreats to Mauritius where her Sufi great-grandfather lived. Through the pain, anger, frustration, fear, self-loathing and despair, both Zareen and Akram must find themselves.
What I loved the most about this novel is how it dealt with abuse from the abused’s point of view. Without being graphic or obvious, Shafinaaz Hassim manages to put us in the shoes of our main character, Zareen, as she figures out what to do to save her marriage, to save herself.
I found that Shafinaaz Hassim wrote each of the characters with compassion and empathy making it possible for the reader to see Akram without judging him as merely a monster. This story could’ve easily been full of judgement for either of the characters but Hassim is a skilled writer who treats each character as complete beings rather than caricatures or stereotypes.
I realised that the story of abuse, whatever side you’re on, is not a simple one. Especially, when love is wrapped up in society’s expectations, one’s hopes and dreams, fear, confusion, young children.
Ultimately this is a story about love and I encourage you to read it.