Leila’s Secret is the second autobiographical book by the award-winning, Iranian-Australian author, Kooshyar Karimi. It is a controversial story that is likely to anger people because there will be those that vehemently agree and others that disagree with his views on religion in Iran. Karimi is ultimately a great storyteller that offers a book that is compelling and easy-to-read, despite tackling some very difficult subjects.
The story is told from two different points of view. There is the perspective of Karimi himself. He is a man who was born to a Jewish mother named Homa and who grew up in poverty in Tehran. Homa married a Muslim man (and she converted to Islam) but he had failed to disclose that he already had two other wives. This did not stop Homa, who had big plans for her son to go to medical school and help the poor. Karimi excelled and also wrote in his spare time and worked as a translator.
In Leila’s Secret, Karimi tells the story of how he went from learning to become a doctor, to performing abortions and hymen repair surgery for marginalised women who faced being stoned to death for having sex outside of marriage. It is heartbreaking to hear Karimi’s story and how he heard about such desperate cases that he couldn’t turn the women and girls away. One of the ladies he assisted was a bright and feisty young woman named Leila.
The other side of this book is told by Karimi delivering Leila’s perspective. It is told in the first person and was put together based on his own memories of the woman and her story and other aspects that he fictionalised. It would have been interesting to hear this story from Leila’s very own perspective but this would have been very difficult to achieve. As it stands, Leila is an interesting heroine, a girl who yearns to go to university but can’t because her traditional family prevent her from leaving the house except for some brief and irregular visits to the library (which they frown upon anyway). It is on one of these occasions that she meets a handsome shopkeeper and this will have devastating ramifications.
For readers that remember Norma Khouri’s fictional story, Forbidden Love, Karimi delivers something in a similar vein but his book is a factual look at life in Iran when he practised there as a doctor in the eighties and nineties. It shows a determined man who is willing to put other people’s welfare above his own safety and an intelligent and strong young woman who is let down by a patriarchal system. In short, it’s an interesting, frustrating and heart-wrenching read that is impossible to put down.
Originally published on 11 May 2015 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/arts/books/kooshyar-karimis-leilas-secret-2015
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