Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen and Bahija Lovejoy
As thing spiral downward for her family, Buran gets to spend time with her father, and is introduced to things like chess, a man's game. At last, she must act. She cuts off her hair, dresses in men's clothing, and finds a place in a caravan, determined to make her fortune as a trader. It's a rough beginning to her heroic journey, but she fools people. Mostly.
That would be enough of a story, but there are two more parts. In part II, Buran--now Nasir--befriends a prince, who upon finding that he loves his friend, sets out to prove that Nasir is a woman. This part was a little sketchy for me, but it's likely enough, and I'm giving this 30-years-old retelling a bit of a mulligan, as it's attempting to recreate a time in the past (and certainly, reflective of people's attitudes about gender today). The underlying idea is that the prince is pleased to have found a woman who can be his friend and lover at once, so there's that, at least. Yes, women can be considered human! (It's more complicated than I'm letting on, but modern-day-me had some issues.)
In part III, Buran, now wealthy, knows she's going to be revealed, and returns to her hometown of Baghdad as a woman. She can provide for her family, and while her movement is constrained again, she can still take part in trade by proxy. She even manages a little revenge before the prince catches up with Nasir...
I read this as part of scoping out "tales retold" for Sirens (www.sirensconference.org); it didn't turn out to have a lick of anything resembling fantasy in it. But despite some misgivings--that stilted sort of fairytale retelling style at the beginning, a creepy gender reveal plot in the middle--I ended up being pleased with the story on the whole. I think it was the dad's confidence in Buran and the revenge plot.