Written in collaboration with author and editor Meg Masters and based on a 2017 article published in Toronto Life magazine, A Good Wife traces the heart-wrenching and empowering story of Samra Zafar, a cricket-loving Pakistani Muslim living in the United Arab Emirates, who is forced into marriage at the age of 16 with the promise of furthering her education in Canada.
The narrative follows Zafar’s journey from childhood to adulthood – from her earliest memories of sexual assault at the hands of older men to her experience raising two girls while suffering in an abusive marriage. She recalls the insidious trajectory of her marriage with terrifying precision – she resolves to leave but is repeatedly lured back by her husband’s false promises. It is a chilling account of a pattern survivors know all too well: one minute, a woman is doted on by an attentive partner and the next, a man she barely recognizes erupts into outbursts of physical, mental, and emotional abuse.
Zafar recounts her harrowing tale with compassion and grace, infusing her story with magic and detail. She presents childhood memories that are tinged with warmth but marred by an often fraught relationship with her parents and community. Her family is depicted with painstaking honesty and complexity: her loving father wanted his daughters to be well educated but also put the family in debt, while her mother thought she could protect Zafar from the leering eyes of men by marrying her off at a young age.
Time and again, Zafar comes up against deeply ingrained social stigmas that result in her questioning her own worth and role as a woman in the eyes of her husband, parents, in-laws, community, and children. She also confronts the shame placed on her, including the backlash she receives for speaking out against her oppression.
Throughout A Good Wife, Zafar proves to be skilled in nuance, masterfully exploring the systemic barriers she faces at various stages in her life. In Canada, she is financially dependent on her husband and in-laws; she later pushes her own limits by pursuing a degree at the University of Toronto. Elsewhere, she frankly addresses persistent taboos in Pakistani culture without resorting to sweeping generalizations or cliché.
Zafar’s courage lies not only in walking away from her abuser but in the astounding vulnerability with which she chooses to tell her story. She commits to the raw, infuriating, exasperating, triumphant truth of her experience and also recognizes the isolation that plagues abuse victims, most particularly newcomers to a country. “What survivors need – beyond shelters, police, and counselling – is a sense of belonging. A community of support.” The reader roots for her at every turn, yearning for her to find the freedom she so desperately deserves.
What is perhaps most powerful and painful about Zafar’s story is the way it unearths generational trauma passed down from mothers to daughters and mothers-in-law to daughters-in-law. It questions what, in some cultures, has become societally permissible in the name of honour. And yet, despite the possibility of homelessness, financial instability, and risks to her own safety, Zafar makes the choice to break the cycle for the sake of her own daughters. A heroine’s tale, indeed.