Trigger warning for references to rape.
The women of Green City have one duty. As soon as they come of age, they must take at least one husband (usually more) and have as many babies as their bodies can manage. We’re not sure how the crisis is handled in other countries in Bina Shah’s chilling novel, Before She Sleeps. In Green City, women are tracked and monitored and bombarded by propaganda about their very important role. There are some women who have managed to rebel against the system. In an underground bunker called the Panah, there are women who struggle to live a life that is not tied to their biology.
Before She Sleeps is mostly narrated by Sabine, a young woman who belongs to the second generation of Panah women. (Panah, we’re told, comes from a Persian word for sanctuary.) She found them on the Deep Web just as her father was putting plans in motion to get her married. Through Sabine’s eyes, we see how the women of the Panah maintain their independence. They take on clients—always powerful men with important connections—and sleep with them. They don’t have sex; they just sleep with these men and offer them the comfort of sleeping next to a woman who is not also married to one or more other men.
The only problem with the Procreation Bureau’s very logical plan for repopulating and dealing with the shortage of women is that, like so many other very logical plans, it does not take into account that people are not logical. Sabine’s limited freedom is jeopardized when one of her clients decides that he loves her and won’t take her repeated noes for an answer. The inevitable crises sends all of the characters rushing around Green City trying to hide their secrets, hide and move Sabine, figure out what happened, and work out what will happen next.
To be blunt, there are a lot of parts in Before She Sleeps that read like thought experiments that are more academic than realistic. I have some serious doubts about how things would play out if most of the women in the world died. There are hints that things were not always peaceful for women in Green City that ring truer to me than the (mostly) rigidly compliant citizens we see in this novel. Plus, the plight of the constantly pregnant wives is not pleasant to contemplate. By having an outsider tell the story, I think we miss out on the possibilities this book’s premise offers. At the risk of sounding harsh, I think Before She Sleeps could have used more thought and a lot more psychologically realistic character development to make it feel plausible.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration. It will be released 7 August 2018.