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Before She Sleeps
Cover of Before She Sleeps
Before She Sleeps
A Novel
by Bina Shah
Borrow Borrow

"A haunting dystopian thriller" from the acclaimed author of A Season for Martyrs— "Fans of The Handmaid's Tale won't want to miss this one" (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

In modern, beautiful Green City, the capital of Southwest Asia, gender selection, war, and disease have brought the ratio of men to women to alarmingly low levels. The government uses terror and technology to control its people, and now females must take multiple husbands to have children as quickly as possible.

Yet there are some who resist, women who live in an underground collective and refuse to be part of the system. Secretly protected by the highest echelons of power, they emerge only at night to provide the rich and elite of Green City a type of commodity no one can buy: intimacy without sex. As it turns out, not even the most influential men can shield them from discovery and the dangers of ruthless punishment.

This dystopian novel from one of Pakistan's most talented writers is a modern-day parable, The Handmaid's Tale for repressed women in Muslim countries everywhere. Before She Sleeps takes the patriarchal practices of female seclusion and veiling, gender selection, and control over women's bodies, amplifying and distorting them in a truly terrifying way to imagine a world of post-religious authoritarianism.

"A haunting dystopian thriller" from the acclaimed author of A Season for Martyrs— "Fans of The Handmaid's Tale won't want to miss this one" (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

In modern, beautiful Green City, the capital of Southwest Asia, gender selection, war, and disease have brought the ratio of men to women to alarmingly low levels. The government uses terror and technology to control its people, and now females must take multiple husbands to have children as quickly as possible.

Yet there are some who resist, women who live in an underground collective and refuse to be part of the system. Secretly protected by the highest echelons of power, they emerge only at night to provide the rich and elite of Green City a type of commodity no one can buy: intimacy without sex. As it turns out, not even the most influential men can shield them from discovery and the dangers of ruthless punishment.

This dystopian novel from one of Pakistan's most talented writers is a modern-day parable, The Handmaid's Tale for repressed women in Muslim countries everywhere. Before She Sleeps takes the patriarchal practices of female seclusion and veiling, gender selection, and control over women's bodies, amplifying and distorting them in a truly terrifying way to imagine a world of post-religious authoritarianism.

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About the Author-
  • Bina Shah is a regular contributor to the International New York Times and is a frequent guest on the BBC. She has contributed essays to Granta, The Independent, and The Guardian. She holds degrees from Wellesley College and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and is an alumna of the University of Iowa's International Writers Workshop. Her novel Slum Child was a bestseller in Italy, and she has been published in English, Spanish, German and Italian. She lives in Karachi.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from June 4, 2018
    Nuclear war and disease have ravaged the world in this haunting dystopian thriller from Pakistani author Shah (A Season for Martyrs). In Green City, capital of the Sub-West Asia Region, the few remaining women have become breeding commodities forced to have multiple husbands. Despite repression, some women rebel and found an alternate community, the Panah. These women go out at night, hidden under veils and covered in gold powder preventing their DNA from being detected on scanners, to provide nonsexual intimacy to high government officials, who crave being held. Among the rebels are Lin, kidnapped when she was seven by an aunt who groomed her to become the Panah’s ruler, and Sabine, who seeks refuge from Green City after her father arranges an undesirable marriage for her. Reuben Faro, the head of the governmental ruling body, is in love with Lin. He protects the Panah, aware that he will be punished severely if discovered. Lin, Sabine, and Reuben become enmeshed in perilous and treasonous conduct that draws in innocent bystanders. Will the three survive? Fans of The Handmaid’s Tale won’t want to miss this one. Agent: Jessica Wollard, David Higham Assoc. (U.K.).

  • Kirkus

    June 1, 2018
    Characters attempt rebellion from a dystopian society that replenishes its female population with forced polygamy and childbearing.Deep underneath Green City, a group of women live in secret in the Panah, a structure that allows them to evade their fate as wives and mothers strictly controlled by the government. After a virus wiped out a large number of women and wars decimated the region--which roughly encompasses what is current-day Pakistan and Iran--they rebuilt by requiring women to marry multiple men, undergo fertility treatments, and be educated as "domestic scientists." But the women of the Panah have resisted and make their livings as consorts to the male leaders of Green City. Rather than sex, these women offer nocturnal companionship, usually simply by sleeping next to their clients and holding them. Lin, the leader of the Panah, believes they are safe from discovery after years of her careful planning and personal risks. But when Sabine, one of the Panah girls, turns up in a hospital, nearly dead from an ectopic pregnancy she has no memory of conceiving, all the secrets of both the Green City elite and the rebels are imperiled. Pakistan native Shah (A Season for Martyrs, 2014, etc.) has written a novel that is in explicit conversation with The Handmaid's Tale, and though Shah's society is emphatically secular, situating her narrative in a predominantly Muslim area of the world is an overdue enlargement of the cultural conversation that Atwood's novel continues to provoke. But Shah's novel, which blends the spy genre and soap opera with speculative fiction, isn't really the feminist dystopia one might expect. None of the female characters are allowed emotional independence: Each one's love for a man drives her decision-making.One can't help wishing the novel had roamed a bit more wildly within this inventive premise.

    COPYRIGHT(2018) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    July 1, 2018
    In a near-future Middle East, a virulent form of HPV decimates the female population. The authoritarian government in Green City handles this gender emergency by granting every woman multiple husbands to ensure repopulation. A small cabal of women live literally underground in Panah (Persian for sanctuary ), leaving only for nighttime assignations with powerful party leaders. Rather than seeing to men's sexual needs, though, these women offer emotional companionship. Jealousy puts Sabine in grave danger, leaving her at the mercy of young doctor Julien Asfour. The use of multiple narrators keeps the pace brisk, while details of the society are slowly revealed. Pakistani author Shah's second novel published in the U.S., after A Season for Martyrs (2014), will undoubtedly draw comparisons to the mother of all feminist dystopias, The Handmaid's Tale, and book groups will find much to discuss comparing the two. But make no mistake, Before She Sleeps stands on its own as a novel that will have readers contemplating rebellion and revolt, sex and power, and the many ways women's bodies are sacrificed for the good of society.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2018, American Library Association.)

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Before She Sleeps
A Novel
Bina Shah
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