In a world that errs on the side of caution and circumspection when it comes to finding one’s perfect match, 26-year-old Indian-American Leila Abid is literally racing against the clock to find a husband who will both meet her high standards and appease her Indian parents. With a three-month deadline looming in front of her and the failure to stick to it resulting in her parents choosing a man for her, Leila goes on a series of dates that are in turn cringe-worthy, hilarious, and heartwarming in her quest to find The One.
As far as first impressions go, we found Zara Raheem‘s debut novel, The Marriage Clock entertaining and incredibly visual, although the ending did leave us wanting more. We loved how Zara tackled the subject of arranged marriages in the Indian community, which are often seen as backwards. But modern arranged marriages are so different than what people think and we loved how the author was able to communicate that. It’s more like being introduced to someone or getting set up on a blind date and then taking some time to get to know them.
We saw a lot of the realities of our cultural upbringings in the novel – not the usual stereotypes, but one that reminds us of the young women we know who have found a comfortable balance between their inherited traditions and their chosen trajectory.
When we spoke with the author about this balance of cultures, Zara said, “I think that balance will look different to each person depending on their experiences. For me, I grew up in a fairly small town in the Midwest. And even though my parents made it a priority to expose me to my Indian culture, I was very aware that part of my identity was what made me different from my peers. Over the years, I’ve definitely gained a greater sense of pride in my South Asian-American identity and have found a comfortable balance between the two cultures without worrying too much about trying to fit perfectly into just one.”
As for Leila’s parents, we were able to relate to them in certain situations but their actions were also a little stereotypical. However, as Zara explains, “Leila’s mother fits that stereotype to a certain extent, but she also pushes against it in other ways. For instance, she’s proud of Leila for pursuing an untraditional career path. She gives Leila the freedom to live on her own and date outside of her culture. She may not always agree with the choices that Leila makes, but her actions also reinforce the idea that she, like many mothers, ultimately just want what is best for their children. And while her methods might be questionable at times, the author thinks readers (and even Leila) can agree that she is coming from a place of love.”
Zara continued, “Both Leila and her parents belong to different generations and their ideas of love and marriage reflect that difference. I think a huge part of their journey as a family is realizing they may not have all the answers and there is a lot to learn from each other as well.”
On her journey to find love, Leila goes on some painful but hilarious dates, and we couldn’t help wondering whether they were based on personal experience. Zara explained, “I would say that quite a few of Leila’s dates reflect the mindsets and behaviours commonly encountered during the process of a South Asian/Muslim courtship – for example, the man who wants a wife who is a doctor but expects her to stay at home and take care of the kids, or the one who claims he’s very open-minded because he’ll give his wife ‘permission’ to dress however she likes.” While the dates are entertaining, Zara said that they “also bring attention to the frustrating double-standards and problematic expectations placed on South Asian women, and the ways in which these behaviours are often accepted by our communities.”
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FINISHED COPIES HAVE ARRIVED!!! It’s been a year and a half since my first announcement about “The Marriage Clock” and what an incredible journey this has been! I started off this process feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and uncertain about what was to come, and I hate to admit that all those feelings are still there ??. But I’m also filled with an immense gratitude to every single person who has cheered me on, offered words of encouragement, and shared in my excitement these past 18 months. I’ve dreamt of publishing a book since I was 8 years old, but I never expected to have so many beautiful, generous, kind-hearted friends (both old and new) supporting me as I worked toward achieving that dream. I wrote this book during a very specific time in my life, and a part of me feels terrified of sharing something that comes from such a personal and vulnerable place. But I’ve also accepted that this book no longer belongs to me. It belongs to all of you, and there’s something deeply comforting about that. Thank you all for coming along on this journey with me. A special thanks to @mmcardona , @anna_solerpont , @pontasagency , and the whole team at @williammorrowbooks for believing in me and the story I wanted to tell. Thank you to my family for showing me that anything is possible. Tomorrow morning, THE MARRIAGE CLOCK will finally be released, and as I sit here reflecting on every moment leading up to this one, I can honestly say this has been beyond a dream come true. From the bottom of my heart. Thank you ❤️ . . . . . #themarriageclock #release #debutauthors19 #authorsofinstagram #writersofinstagram #booksofig #summerbooks #ownvoices #diversereads #newbook #bookstagram #goals #dreambig #writersofinstagram
We could easily visualise the colorful characters and entertaining twists and turns in the novel being adapted into film. Naming her dream cast for a movie adaptation, Zara said she would ideally have Jameela Jamil play Leila, Farida Jalal or Kirron Kher as Laila’s mother and Zain and Hisham played by Hasan Minhaj or Riz Ahmed.
At the beginning of the novel, Leila has a list of requirements for the future husband that seemed a little unrealistic to us. Zara did point out, however, that a lot of us start off dating with an extensive list of wants and requirements in terms of what we look for in a life partner. She continued, “But as you go through the process, and begin learning more about yourself, you gradually make modifications to that list as you start to realize that certain qualities may not necessarily be as important as others.”
Our favourite character in The Marriage Clock ended up being Leila’s best friend Tania, who we felt was the most relatable and had a good head on her shoulders. Having been divorced, she was able to offer her genuine and practical advice to Leila. We also felt it was important that Zara realistically depicted the stigma around divorce in South Asian and Muslim communities, especially because when criticizing cultures that are under-represented in mainstream media, you run the risk of certain criticisms reinforcing negative stereotypes.
When we brought this up with Zara, she said, “I knew it would be both impossible to write about the arranged marriage process without also touching upon other issues … issues like ageism, colorism, gender biases and negative attitudes towards women who were previously married/divorced.”
The book ended on a cliffhanger of sorts, and when we probed Zara for clues as to what was next for Leila, she said, “only good things!”.
As for Zara’s future, she mentioned that she’s currently working on a short story collection centered around Muslim-American characters, the South Asian diaspora, and first-and-second-generation immigrants. We’ll be here waiting to read it when she’s done!
Rating: 4 out of 5.
We’re giving away one copy of the book! Follow our Instagram for a chance to win.
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??AUGUST BOOK GIVEAWAY ? ? This month we're reading The Marriage Clock by @za_ra_heem. ✨ Check out the #linkinbio for the article with the book review and author interview ✨ In honour of #BookLoversDay, we're giving away 1 copy to our #TempestFam! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ -⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ TO ENTER: ? Like this photo + make sure you follow @wearethetempest and @za_ra_heem. ?Tag a friend in the comments below (and make sure they follow @wearethetempest and @za_ra_heem too!)⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Each comment counts as one entry. Giveaway ends August 20th at 11.59pm EST. Winners will be chosen at random and will be notified via Instagram. ?#TempestIRL #ttreads #giveaway (?: @za_ra_heem)
If you cannot wait, get “The Marriage Clock” here for $8.95.