“Jafari provides the nuance to a Muslim girl falling in love that hasn’t always been depicted in adult romances. It’s messy, there’s secrecy, and the anxiety of it is always battling against the euphoric feeling.”
Writing this particular review will be like the moment Neo realises he’s in the Matrix. Is it self indulgent of me to review a book where the character has the same name as me? Perhaps. Will this stop me from writing it? Absolutely-fucking-not.
Seldom (actually, never) am I fortunate to read about a character and their family dynamic that resonates so heavily with me, and Jafari provides that in abundance. Part family drama and part romance, The Mismatch is Sara Jafari’s debut novel. Following the young, newly-graduated Soraya as she struggles to find a job and maintain her new independent life away from the suffocating constrictions of her family in Brighton.
The beginning of Soraya’s journey has the perfect setup for a romcom; timid, never been kissed and lacking in life experience. Soraya sets out to obtain her first kiss. Enter Magnus Evans; rugby player, a little bit of a slag and obviously not Muslim. He’s the perfect Mr. Right Now.
“The fact that he isn’t the type of man that she, a Muslim girl, could bring home to her conservative parents in a million years simmers beneath the surface of every moment she spends with him.”
Now, we know how I feel about white men in this house, but Magnus isn’t without his charm. His predictable laddishness is offset by his secretive vulnerability, which he slowly becomes comfortable revealing to Soraya, as well as being an avid reader that manages to voice marginally intelligent opinions about the texts he and Soraya used to study in class. His choice in friends makes this particular fact about him that much more surprising, though when you look back at the type of sporty lads at uni, didn’t at least some of them have a surprisingly endearing quality?
It serves as an authentic depiction when reading Magnus, eliciting certain flashbacks of the exact type of boy you knew like that at university.
Naturally, Soraya is comical in how she prolongs this experiment of hers, taking steps further with Magnus and progressing their relationship, whilst stubbornly maintaining the belief that it is all fake. The fact that he isn’t the type of man that she, a Muslim girl, could bring home to her conservative parents in a million years simmers beneath the surface of every moment she spends with him.
“The psychological exhaustion that weighs down on her is palpable throughout the novel.”
As feelings inevitably grow, the guilt of her behaviour weighs heavy on Soraya’s chest. As a Muslim, it’s easy for this to cut deeply, witnessing the conflict in Soraya’s mind as she stumbles between the line of respecting her religion and parents, and following her heart. Jafari excellently highlights how the upbringing of second generation Muslims in Western cultures conflicts with the values that Soraya’s parents are fighting to uphold.
What’s worse is that Soraya has tasted freedom. Having spent three years away from home and supporting herself, she has built a home and comfort that remains outside and hidden from her family – one where she doesn’t have to think twice about what lie she will tell her parents when she wants to go out, or run home to avoid getting in too late. The psychological exhaustion that weighs down on her is palpable throughout the novel as she struggles to find a graduate job and remain in London.
For Soraya, this doesn’t just mean moving back home if she’s not successful, this means returning to a toxic environment with her lazy and overbearing father. It has created loopholes in which her brother can break rules without facing accountability. It means reverting back to the person she was before she had learned what independence is.
“It never feels as if it’s trying too hard. Jafari expertly navigates the differences, and similarities, between mother and daughter as they explore their relationship with Islam.”
The anxiety of it courses through the reader’s veins, paired with the overbearing guilt that comes with it. Though Soraya is never guilty of anything, there is a sense of betrayal rooted deeply in her that will – unfortunately – never cease to exist. It is an emotion built into the fabric of so many Muslim children – especially girls – that attempting to eventually separate yourself from it is to cut off a limb.
Dramatic? Maybe, but it doesn’t make it any less true.
A pleasant surprise in the novel is the dual narrative Jafari awards us. It comes in the form of Soraya’s mother, Neda, in 70’s Iran. Living in the time of the Pehlavi Dynasty (little bit of history for you lot), it is a notably modern time in Tehran, Iran. Neda chooses to wear hijab in a time where it is frowned upon, even incessantly negatively commented about, but Jafari takes us through the experiences of Neda and why she has chosen to do so. It is a form of protection and a source of empowerment for Neda, which is shown without it overwhelming the reader.
“In short: those endorphins and serotonin levels are gonna have your heart rate through the roof.”
It never feels as if it’s trying too hard. Jafari expertly navigates the differences, and similarities, between mother and daughter as they explore their relationship with Islam. Neda is smart, ambitious and so very in love with the idea of falling in love. It becomes heartbreaking, as a reader, to watch this light in her deteriorate following her move to the UK.
Much like many immigrants, Neda struggles to readjust in an environment and country that was never built for people like her. This parallels Soraya’s struggles to fit both parts of her into a world, and reveal to the reader that they have much more in common than the average person may believe.
That is not to say that Neda does not have her faults, in fact she fails many of her children – despite never thinking badly of them for how they follow their faith – but it’s within her chapters that it becomes easy to empathise with her. Upon reaching the end of her story, it weaves into Soraya’s perfectly, feeling almost as if it were a full circle moment – despite Neda’s being tinged with sadness.
It’s obvious that this book had me in my feelings, it was hard not to be when I had THE SAME FUCKING NAME AS THE PROTAGONIST.
More than that, Soraya’s experience is one that can resonate with many Muslim people. Jafari provides the nuance to a Muslim girl falling in love that hasn’t always been depicted in adult romances. It’s messy, there’s secrecy, and the anxiety of it is always battling against the euphoric feeling.
In short: those endorphins and serotonin levels are gonna have your heart rate through the roof. Throw in some of that anxiety and you’re gonna be having palpitations.
A lot of Muslim girls will have flashbacks of memories where they’ve absolutely shat themselves at almost getting caught when texting someone they fancy. Don’t lie!
This one’s for you girlies, and the one is still yet to come.
Soraya Bouazzaoui is Aurelia’s Literal Hotties columnist which whilst never giving too much away, focuses on reviews and recommendations of titles by woman of colour, both fiction and non-fiction. @halalltakeaway
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