The Mismatch by Sara Jafari is relatable, honest and romantic.
One family, two women and a secret that threatens to ruin them both. Don’t be deceived by the premise, Jafari’s debut delivers much more than simple romance.
Soraya is a twenty-one-year-old graduate trying to navigate between her conservative Iranian upbringing and the western freedoms she has enjoyed during university. This is pulled into sharp focus by her interest in Magus, a white atheist that she’s drawn to despite seemingly having nothing in common.
Interspersed with Soraya’s journey is that of her mother, Neda. It begins in pre-revolution Iran, a setting that was new to me, but the misogyny Neda experienced was depressingly familiar. Rather than making wild choices and having to deal with the consequences, I found Neda a very relatable character. While I understood the reasoning behind her actions, knowing that her relationship with her husband would become unbalanced and toxic made for heavy reading. Having her story interspersed with Soraya’s gave me some respite.
While the tagline ‘opposites attract. But do they fall in love?’ and the cover indicates romance, in my opinion, it does the book a disservice to limit it in this way. Serious themes are explored, notably the power that men wield in the lives of the women around them. Though Soraya and Neda view this issue through a Muslim, Iranian lens, their fears and challenges are universal. While Neda frets about choosing a husband and is under no illusion that this is a decision that will make or break her, Soraya struggles with the hypocrisy in her family and culture, where male transgressions are swept under the rug but women are constantly reminded that even the suspicion of bad behaviour will ruin them.
It’s not just her background that Soraya is battling against. Her forages into romance keep getting blindsided by the casual misogyny and objectification of women’s bodies that are rife in the western world. In one particularly memorable scene, a romantic cooked meal is spoiled when she finds a pile of pornographic magazines in the bathroom of Magnus’ house share. Another time at a party a girl runs in topless, followed by a naked guy, and this attracts nothing but cheering from the other partygoers, leaving both Soraya and the reader wondering ‘What the f is going on?’.
Soraya also has to deal with her ‘otherness’. Her self-esteem is crippled by her experience at the hands of childhood bullies, but even in her adult life she experiences plenty of casual racism: from the interviewer who unnecessarily asks her where she’s ‘really’ from, to Magnus’ friends who instead insist on calling her ‘Sarah’. As engaging as Soraya’s millennial tale is, it is Neda’s story that steals the show. While Neda’s career blooms, her relationship with Hossein crumbles. She is cut off from her family and support network and her isolation in an increasingly dangerous marriage is chilling.
Despite the focus on the female experience or perhaps because of it, Jafari is at her most skillful when crafting the male characters such as Neda’s father and son, and none more so than Hossein. Far from making excuses to allow a saccharine reconciliation, she lays a trail showing how such a character is created, the complex layers of guilt and responsibility, as well as deftly outlining Hossein’s own view of himself, and justification for his behaviour.
The Mismatch is a must-read, it is both timely and relevant, and manages to address the conversations that are taking place in society about gender, religion, and race without being overbearing or preaching. For a debut, it is well-crafted and ambitious. For this alone, Jafari is an author to watch. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Sarah M Jasat grew up believing her family was very strange but later discovered she was Indian. She lives in Leicester, UK, and writes short fiction about the strangeness of family. She dreams about writing a novel for older children if only she could get her own children to go to sleep.