Monster Child by Rahela Nayebzadah is a brief, intense attack of a novel capable of leaving one breathless and uncomfortably provoked—and this isn’t a bad thing. Discomfort challenges you. It can change you.
Circling around the lives of three teenage siblings, Beh, Shabnam and Alif—Afghani immigrants to Canada—Nayebzadah explores the oppressive expectations of family, culture, and society through the eyes of these self-proclaimed “monster” children.
The book provides a rich banquet of thematic interplay. There are the intersections of silence and sexism, disability and desirability, responsibility and freedom. As someone of Middle Eastern descent, I found these explorations profound and powerful, but you don’t have to be geographically or culturally connected to Nayebzadah’s characters to relate to their lives. I’d argue that any reader would be able to find themselves in Beh, Shabnam and Alif, either in whole or in part.
In fact, Nayebzadah gives the reader such an intimate, unflinching look into the lives of these characters that their desires and pain become entirely, excruciatingly understandable, if not also relatable.
For me, the most fascinating part of this book was not found in any of these intersections, nor in the relatability of the characters themselves—though obviously, they are noteworthy, which is why I’ve mentioned them. What I found most striking about Nayebzadah’s work was the masterfully illustrated examination of how children who grow up in the same home with the same parents can have such different experiences and memories.
This isn’t a singular phenomenon. It’s called “Knothole Theory ” and describes the way in which siblings can view an event through a specific knothole created by their own experiences and shaped by their attempts to make sense of their world. Knothole Theory not only states that siblings can (and often do) see the same event through different perspectives, but they can view the outcome differently too.
This occurrence is beautifully, if also, painfully, rendered in Monster Child. While in the same family, Beh, Shabnam, and Alif endure their own realities: realities that lead them to privately suspect, if not believe, they are monsters.
The truth is there are many horrific elements of this story, but the siblings (even at their worst) are not monstrous: the crushing centripetal force created by spinning lies and omissions—all to meet impossible expectations—this unthinking, unfeeling, but wholly human-made compulsion is the real monster. As Albert Schweitzer wrote: “Man can hardly even recognize the devils of his own creation”, so the monster goes unrecognized and uncontrolled.
Another reader may see another monster. Another reader may read the same words—encounter the same series of events—and decipher them differently, based on their previous experiences, and this doesn’t weaken Nayebzadah’s book. Rather, it adds depth to her work, making her writing not only a sophisticated and concomitant commentary on living life but of interpreting art.
About the Author:
A mother of two, Rahela Nayebzadah holds a Ph.D. in the Faculty of Education from the University of British Columbia. Currently, she is a schoolteacher. Her autobiographical novel, Jeegareh Ma (2012), was based on her family’s migration to Canada from Afghanistan.
- Publisher : Buckrider Books (May 18 2021)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 200 pages
- ISBN-10 : 198949630X
- ISBN-13 : 978-1989496305
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