Review: Through the Sad Wood Our Corpses Will Hang by Ava Farmehri

through the sad wood.pngThe Premise: at the age of 20, Sheyda Porrouya’s life is almost over. She was born in Iran on the day staunchly orthodox mullas declared the birth of the Islamic Republic and set about summarily purging the country of all things Western and un-Islamic. To make matters worse, as she matured, Sheyda seemed increasingly unable to distinguish between fairy tale and reality. She began to exhibit disturbing behaviour. When Sheyda is accused of killing her mother, she is immediately jailed and sentenced to death by hanging.

Thoughts: as you may conclude from the synopsis, this is not a cheery book to read. Sheyda’s story begins with her imprisonment, with the narrative then flitting between past and present to fill in the gaps, showing the reader her peculiar childhood behaviour as a means of explaining her present state. I was expecting more misery, to be honest; these flashbacks are not as traumatic as you might expect in a book in which the main point is the protagonist’s murder of her own mother. I found the depiction of Sheyda’s relationships with her mother and father really engaging, with her social isolation and strange childhood quirks having obvious impacts on her ability to socialise with others.

More saddening are the sections set in the prison, with Sheyda’s abjection complete as she is ostracised by her fellow prisoners and reduced to the embarrassing behaviours of her childhood. These sections, and the structure of the book overall, reminded me of one of my favourite novels – The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah, in which the protagonist is similarly imprisoned for murder and spends her time reflecting on her past – particularly in its gradual unravelling of the truth. Farmehri’s writing is perfect for the task of revealing Sheyda’s fractured state and the emotion she feels at different parts of her life. Even in relatively uneventful passages, the book is compelling because of how beautifully written it is.

In Conclusion: I was drawn to this book because of its extremely emo title and its author and setting, as I like to read as widely and diversely as possible. It’s a book that subtly draws you in and grabs hold of your emotions without you really noticing until it’s too late.

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