Salt and Pepper


Fiction - Social Issues
426 Pages
Reviewed on 07/07/2022
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Jennifer Ibiam for Readers' Favorite

Ranya was a British-Bangladeshi who endured hell with her parents. She moved to her brother’s home in London, and life wasn’t any better. Ranya lived each day by rules that would break the strongest person. She had just started the first year of her academic degree when her brother arranged a marriage for her. Ranya wanted to escape her brother’s and sister-in-law’s clutches, so she went along with the plan. If only Ranya knew it was a case of jumping from the frying pan into the fire. With five wicked sisters-in-law, a horrible mother-in-law, and a doormat husband, Ranya would become the maid of the house. Unfortunately, there were no pleasing these people. Ranya was alone. Will she ever grow a backbone or just succumb to their cruelty? Find out in Salt and Pepper by Maria Akhanji.

Marriage is good when seasoned with all the right things, as salt and pepper season our meals. However, both spices are deadly when handled wrongly. Hence, Salt and Pepper by Maria Akhanji is a perfect title. This novel delved into many issues, from religion to culture, misogyny, patriarchy, female subjugation, and more. Salt and Pepper is a story that made me want to pull my hair out because it evoked a cocktail of emotions ranging from anger to frustration and defeat. Women are subject to cultures and man’s biased interpretation of religion so they lose themselves. When does she say it’s enough? When she’s in a body bag or maimed for life? I felt suffocated by all the rules, religious hypocrisy, and blatant disregard of other humans. It hurt even more to see women champion patriarchy by the men instead of uplifting each other. This novel also showed a wide gap between being religious and being godly. I’m grateful to Maria for precisely capturing the plight of many women worldwide. I hope more women find liberation.

Asher Syed

Salt and Pepper: BrideMaids by Maria Akhanji is a contemporary women's novel that revolves around its female protagonist, Ranya, a British Bangladeshi Muslim. The book begins with Ranya revealing that she believes she may have been introduced to the man she wishes to marry, Fahim. As there is no dating in Islam, the introduction is arranged and agreed upon by the bride and groom, as well as their immediate families. From the onset, the engagement is fraught with headaches that range from warnings about the groom's family, and invitation faux pas' to decisions being made that Ranya isn't happy with. Things go from bad to worse after the marriage, some due to traumatic past events that emerge in present circumstances, but most due to the expectations of a new bride that were so out of control that even a robot would have difficulty meeting them. And Ranya, however hard she tries, is no robot. Fahim is gentle and attentive, even affectionate with small things like making Ranya's tea, but as the abuse from his family toward his wife becomes more pronounced, Fahim's own behavior begins to shift. As secrets are revealed, Ranya is faced with a choice and consequences no young bride should ever have to contend with.

Salt and Pepper: BrideMaids offers a first-person point of view narrative that enables Maria Akhanji to convey what Ranya sees, thinks, and feels through her own eyes. From this, we are able to understand Ranya on a more intimate level and can clearly see how quickly the excitement of the next chapter of life can be diminished by doubt. We are also able to witness the vulnerability of a young woman who, despite being technically old enough to marry, is too young and naïve to look beyond the immediate present and make decisions that are not driven by emotion. It's interesting as Ranya grows independently within a stunted marriage how, looking back, she starts to acknowledge the red flags with thoughts like, “I was beginning to get the vibes that all the negative feelings I had prior to the marriage were perhaps not typical anxiety but rather a premonition.” Readers who appreciate a strictly character-driven arc over a story having a discernible plot will enjoy this novel. The prose is very simple and reflects the speech and thought processes of a girl not prepared for a healthy marriage let alone a train wreck, and being able to see each moment through her eyes serves the story well. Recommended.