Sharif, Shamim. “I Can’t Think Straight”, Bywater Books reprint, 2017.
Tala is a Palestinian woman who is based in London and preparing for her elaborate Middle Eastern wedding. There she meets Leyla, a young British Indian woman who is dating her best friend. The two women are totally different, especially personality wise (Tala is outspoken and haughty [and Christian]; Leyla is Muslim and shy). Nonetheless the attraction is immediate and goes deeper than friendship. However, Tala does not feel ready to accept the implications of what this could mean from her and rushes back to Jordan. Leyla, on the other hand, tries to continue with her newly found life and this shocks her tradition-loving parents. As Tala gets closer to her wedding day, tensions mount for her to be true to her heart even though there are pressures to accept herself and erupt. The novel moves between the high society of the Middle East and the stunning London’s West End as we explore the clashes between East and West, love and marriage, conventions and individuality.
At first, neither woman can explain how they feel and as the two become closer, they realize that they are torn between their feelings and the obligations they have for their families. They have traditional values and being married to a man is a fact of life that they have to deal with. While they know how they feel for each other, they do not know how to deal with those feelings that they share. They are pressured to fit into what society expects of them yet are fully aware that this is not what they want to do. They know that they must come to terms with the ramifications they will face if they admit openly that they want to be with each other. The themes of love and marriage, individuality and conventions and the clash between cultures are the main ideas that come across and these are forces that all of us have had to face thus making this book a very relevant read.
Shamim Sharif has created two fascinating characters who are well drawn and the prose of the novel is lovely. While this is the story of two women, it could be the story of so many of us who have lived on the margins of society because we have chosen to love in ways that many in this world feel is unconventional.