Promising Azra

Helen Thurloe

Promising Azra
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Promising Azra

Helen Thurloe

Azra is sixteen, smart and knows how to get what she wants. She thinks.

When she wins a place in a national science competition, she thinks her biggest problem is getting her parents' permission to go. But she doesn’t know they’re busy arranging her marriage to an older cousin she’s never met. In Pakistan. In just three months' time…

Azra always thought she’d finish high school with her friends and then go on to study science, but now her dreams of university are suddenly overshadowed. And it all becomes complicated when her uncle finds out about Pratik, a young man from the local boys' school who is quite keen on Azra.

Can she find a way to do what she wants, while keeping her parents happy? Or does being a good daughter mean sacrificing her freedom?

Review

Helen Thurloe’s Promising Azra is a powerful human interest story. This work casts a spotlight on the clandestine practise of forced marriage of young women living in conservative sectors of the Australian Muslim community.

For sixteen-year-old Azra Ajmal, a first generation Australian of Pakistani heritage, her personal ambition is to excel academically. Her immediate concern is to convince her parents to grant her permission to compete in a national science competition. Azra’s family adhere to strict Islamic traditions where the honour of the family is valued higher than that of the individual. Her uncle, Zarar Ajmal, the patriarchal head of her extended family, assumes control over their lives. Azra doesn’t realise it but her academic aspirations are about to be overridden by a family pact to marry her to a cousin in Pakistan.

Azra’s innocence and naivety makes her struggle against this arranged marriage and the certain conflict this would cause with her family nerve-racking to witness. The penalty for her defiance would be banishment from the family home and a future living in hiding as protection against an honour attack against her. Faced with an impossible choice, either decision brings with it great personal sacrifice.

There is a symmetry to the structure of the work that accords with the significance of the Muslim calendar. The work opens during Rajab, when conflict is forbidden and there is a period of calm in Azra’s family experience. As the work moves into Sha’ban, the month of separation, we see Azra shunned by her family for her independence. The month of Ramadan that follows is a holy time of celebration and her family plan her imminent wedding. But, one year on, the Muslim New Year of Muharram gives promise to hope and new beginnings.


Natalie Platten works as a bookseller at Readings Malvern.

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