Published by Delphinium
Publication date: August 7, 2018
Genres: Book Clubs, Cultural, Dystopian, Fiction, Science Fiction
Men’s physical appetites are huge, but their emotional appetites are without end.
Set in Green City, the capital of South West Asia Before She Sleeps is a dystopic novel along the lines of The Handmaid’s Tale. The difference being that because the female population has been decimated by a version of the HPV virus they are treated with the utmost respect. Without them there is no way to replenish Earth’s population, but, not surprisingly, men have no intention of willingly ceding control of anything to the ‘weaker’ sex. Women are assigned multiple husbands and with the aid of fertility drugs are incented to procreate as often as possible. The more children, the greater the economic rewards. They have virtually no other rights or autonomy, but their bodies, as baby factories can’t be beaten or otherwise harmed.
Into this baby breeding, totalitarian environment one clever rebel and entrepreneur, Lin, creates a safe place for young women who want no part of the breedfest, but who still need a way to survive. Given the mandate to have sex as often as possible to impregnate their wives, but not to engage with them in most other ways, Lin provides powerful men with simple, unfettered female companionship. Her girls are ordered through the Deep Web and will spend the night, cuddling or sleeping. No sexual contact is allowed. Sabine is one of the young women who lives in the Panah, as it’s called. One of her Clients has begun to exhibit unwelcome feelings for her. She has no love for him, but soon finds herself in a dangerous and untenable situation that threatens not only her wellbeing, but that of the entire Panah community.
Author Bina Shah lives in Pakistan and Before She Sleeps is imbued with the very real sense of being in a country with repressive attitudes towards women. She makes no attempt to mask how closely this parable aligns with life for many women in Muslim countries. For some, the novel’s agenda may feel heavy-handed, but it didn’t bother me. If anything, I found that the novel’s plot and action, overshadowed the nuances of Lin and Sabine’s lives. The pace moved very quickly which worked well to maintain a sense of tension, but it didn’t give me time to invest in the characters. That aside, Shah succeeds in this atmospheric novel that gives a chilling look into a future that feels more like possibility than science fiction.