Sarif, Shamim. “The World Unseen”, Bywater Books reprint, 2017.
Breaking the Rules
In 1950’s South Africa, free-spirited Amina has broken all the rules of her own conventional Indian community living in South Africa in the 1950’s under government apartheid. She and her business partner, Jacob (who is “colored”) have a café. She meets Miriam, a wife and mother and they are immediately attracted to each other and this attraction causes Miriam to begin to question the rules under which she is forced to live. As she does, the two women’s lives are changed dramatically and forever. Writer Shamim Sarif takes us into a world where white and black, men and women are divided. Both Amina and Miriam are amazed at the intensity of the feelings they have for each other and they both feel that it is time to find ways out of the oppression under which they are forced to live. We immediately see that this is a story of opposites in almost every aspect. The women are bound by repression and expression as they question tradition rather than accept it blindly. Courage and fear come together as they try to find the voice that will allow them to break free.
Miriam is a traditional young wife and mother who has come to South Africa with her two small children to join her husband. Amina is an outspoken and fiery young woman running her own café and taxi business.
Miriam and Amina both put themselves at risk for people they barely know. Miriam, a traditional Indian wife, chose to leave her husband for a chance at love with a woman and we wonder if such a relationship could ever succeed in 1950’s South Africa. Unfortunately the book does not deal with that issue and Miriam decides she wants to continue seeing Amina. Miriam’s husband is physically abusive and a controlling man who turns violent when Miriam shows initiative or independence. By asserting herself she puts her in danger as long as she remains with him. The book ends on a crisis point with nothing resolved. I would have loved to know that the relationship between the two women was able to survive.