Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Book Review: The Sand Child

Is gender something we're born with or something we develop? How is being female in your society different from being female in others?

What happens if you are forced to perform a gender role opposite to your sex? And what if that occurred in an Islamic society which conversely oppresses women and reveres men?

These are all questions explored in Tahar Ben Jelloun's compelling novel, "The Sand Child."

Set in Morocco in the mid-twentieth century, "The Sand Child" begins with a father in absolute anguish over the birth of yet another daughter. In a culture that considers the birth of even one girl unlucky, Hajji has been dealt the ultimate bad hand: seven daughters and not a single son. Faced with the possibility of having to name his contemptuous brother as his heir, Hajji decides his eighth child will be a boy, no matter what it's sex.

And so begins the nightmarish upbringing of Ahmed, physically female but brought up as a male. Hajji makes sure Ahmed receives all the privileges deserving of a sole male heir: a lavish welcoming party at birth, access to the best education the family could afford, permission to enter Mosques and to study the Koran, and reign over all seven sisters and his mother.

Despite these advantages, Ahmed finds he can't control his effeminate ways or his "female" mentality. Caught between a desire to keep the privileges of an Islamic man while identifying with a female mind and body, Ahmed closes himself off to society.

We are left asking what happens to this confused, isolated character, as he grows up caught within two separate identities. But in fact, Ahmed's true fate is left for the reader to decide, as the narration at this point in the novel switches to various forms and characters. Different theories of Ahmed's fate are espoused, and a fascinating tale is woven, painting the many options a man occupying the body of a woman in a violently restrictive culture can occupy.

The book itself broaches many provoking questions about gender identity, and the constant flux of the  narrative gives the text a disorienting feel while also reflecting the idea that gender identity itself is remarkably fluid.

A warning for any potential readers: This is a book the likes of which you have most likely never read before. Narrators switch without any warning, and you'll have to work hard to figure out who's talking when and where you even are. But if you can accomplish that, you'll be left with a fascinating story and the desire for more.

Photos from Pinterest.com


  1. Great review! I am checking that book to read now!!
    Love from www.trangscorner.com {a lifestyle, fashion, beauty, and food blog}

    1. Thanks, Trang Do! Let me know what you think :)

  2. Great review - going to add this to my reading list now. Thanks for the recommendation. x

    Ashleigh | www.quintessentiallyme.co.uk

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