THE PLOT: The Pact We Made follows Dahlia, a twenty-nine-year-old woman living in Kuwait. As her thirtieth birthday approaches, her mother pressures her to find a husband. But Dahlia finds life in Kuwait stultifying due to the pressure to bow to family and society’s expectations. Plus, childhood trauma has left her riddled with anxieties. Can she find the courage and strength to move away from home, or will she bow under the pressure to marry?
RATING: Four stars all round for this dark, brooding novel. The first book I’ve read by a Kuwaiti author, it provides a reflection on modern life in Kuwait City juxtaposed by the restrictions of the traditional, religious culture. The depiction of depression and anxiety was very relatable while the plot drew me in and I raced through this book.
GOOD BITS: The focus on mental health and trauma in an ordinary setting is the most successful aspect of the novel. Outwardly, Dahlia has a good job, lots of friends and is from a relatively wealthy family. Yet, her internal struggles encapsulate the duality in all of us. The author articulates the struggle between the outward portrayal of self and inner self perfectly. I also enjoyed the realistic way Dahlia’s relationships with her family and friends (hence the eponymous pact) are portrayed because each character has clear and conflicting motivations – no one is a hero or a villain, everyone is a mix of both.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: The ending…. I wanted…more? Well, I wanted it to be different. Maybe I’m a bit too trite but I didn’t like, or agree with, the final choice. It’s hard to explain without spoilers but I wanted more for Dahlia.
OVERALL: I’d 100% recommend this book, particularly if you’re not well versed in literature from Gulf Arab countries. It deals with some heavy themes, but it explores a common form of oppression for women around the world – the idea that you’re not complete without a husband and kids.