DiscoverWomen's Fiction

Unbowed

By

Worth reading 😎

In this striking debut, Lestine seamlessly connects the lives of three divergent protagonists to produce a compelling narrative of strength.

In breathless prose woven with themes such as honor, power, and justice, Unbowed is a heartrending novel - a story for women everywhere.


Intricately connecting the trajectory of Basma, Zafeera, and Neelam’s lives together, this novel alternates POVs, beautifully characterizing three women on the precipice of change. Rife with tension and suspense, the narrative structure of the novel renders it equal parts thriller and social commentary.

 

Despite disparate backgrounds, our protagonists each contend with the troubling cultural and familial moral systems which ground patriarchal societies. Reading as they navigate the complexities of womanhood in a misogynistic world is inherently frustrating to read, but makes you crave more for them. Inevitably, many passages can be very difficult to read, as the author doesn’t shy away from the darker moments in these women’s lives. Yet through it all, there’s a thrumming undercurrent of hope beneath great pain and suffering. Basma’s desires and fears compel us to wonder: what are we willing to do to change our fate? In turn, Dr. Neelam asks us to consider who/what defines us, and how we define justice. Zafeera, too, challenges our worldview, pushing readers to consider if we choose our paths, or if they choose us. 


Changes in POV are believable, with notable shifts in voice and dialogic style. Each woman’s story is nuanced, capable of breaking your heart and putting it back together again. Natural dialogue and attention to linguistic and cultural subtleties only further develop each narrator's perspective and interactions. Vivid imagery further contributes to careful worldbuilding, situating the reader directly in the setting.


Minor grammatical errors do not hinder the novel’s storytelling; my sole qualm with the novel rests with Basma’s romantic life. In a narrative which challenges patriarchal norms, Basma’s storyline is initially limited, her capacity for self-love and fulfillment discovered in a toxic relationship with a man. I’m all for sexual liberation, but it felt like Basma traded in one harmful man for another. Though her characterization is not limited to this relationship for the remainder of the novel, choosing a man to upend Basma’s worldview feels like a contradictory choice, and, frankly, one that perpetuates traditional notions of the male gaze/white saviorism. 


Beyond the narrative qualities, this novel sheds light on the people behind countless social and political movements, offering vital social commentary on human rights as each woman unpacks the repressive nature of political regimes and countless world religions. At once grim and optimistic, Lestine shows that shifts in power are possible. I'd recommend this to readers who enjoy the work of Toni Morrison, or novels such as Queenie or A Burning.


TW: rape, domestic violence, violence against women

Reviewed by

As an English major and lifelong reader, books are my personal and professional passion. Stories can connect, empower, entertain, and give voice to the human experience. When I'm not reading (or thinking about reading), I'm probably making excessively long playlists or daydreaming about Scotland.

Chapter 1

About the author

"I prefer to write fiction because of the sheer freedom it gives the imagination, the intellect, to express ideas and concepts, and to explore the complicated issues in life that we all struggle with. And, what better way to connect to other human beings than through the intimacy of a story.” view profile

Published on December 01, 2020

Published by Yogi Next Door Publishing

150000 words

Contains mild explicit content ⚠️

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Women's Fiction

Reviewed by