Book Review: Promising Azra by Helen Thurloe

Promising Azra is an excellent, thoroughly researched and thoughtful book about a teenage Muslim girl, Azra. Azra attends a suburban high school in Sydney and loves everything about it – her friends, her subjects, her teachers. She excels in Year 11 science and is looking forward to finishing high school and continuing on to university over the next few years.

However, Azra is from a traditional Islamic Pakistani family and her parents have very different ideas about her future. They, with the help of her domineering uncle, secretly arrange her wedding in Pakistan to a cousin whom she met only once at the age of four. Her cousin is 11 years older than her, in his late 20s.

As Azra gradually puts the clues together and realises what is about to happen, she is filled with fear, anger and anxiety over her future. She is able to enlist help through a close friend’s sister and the school counsellor when she finally realises that she must make an agonizing choice between her future and her family… but is it already too late?

While Azra struggles to resolve her conflict, her school friend Bassima explains that some customs are cultural rather than Islamic, saying “Forcing you to get married when you don’t want to, that’s not true Islam.” Nevertheless, Azra still feels pressured by her family’s customs. Bassima then aptly quotes from one of the girls’ English class novels Jane Eyre, ‘Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion’.

This story is written brilliantly and sensitively by Helen Thurloe, who has researched the growing trend of forced marriages, (not to be confused with arranged marriages) which affect more Australian children every year from many backgrounds. She writes, ‘My intention with Promising Azra was to give a voice to girls who can’t perceive, or properly articulate, the options they might have around choosing a life partner.’

An intensely absorbing and exciting read, while also entertaining and erudite, Promising Azra is very hard to put down. It achieves the author’s goals admirably, as she writes “I hope this story also gives a window into Azra’s world for those who are quick to judge the complexities of other cultures. There’s a part of all of us that wants to do the right thing… but sometimes it’s hard to know… what that right thing is.”

Promising Azra

Helen Thurloe

Allen & Unwin