Tag Archives: #jeannefredriksen

Farzana Doctor’s Book, ‘Seven’ Confronts An Abusive Tradition

Trigger Warnings: FGM/C

Some Christian denominations believe a seven-year-old can make spiritual choices. Judaism and Islam hold that a seven-year-old boy is able to participate in fasting and praying. For many, seven is the age at which a child knows right from wrong. For others, it’s simply a lucky number. In award-winning Canadian author Farzana Doctor’s bold and compassionate novel Seven, the significance is painfully different.

Sharifa, a 40-year-old Dawoodi Bohra woman born and raised in America, is a classroom-weary high school history teacher. Her marriage to the jovial Murtuza is an agreeable one, but behind closed doors, there are ongoing issues: Sharifa once engaged in a brief online affair, and she never has experienced an orgasm before or during the marriage. However, when she, Murtuza, and their daughter Zeenat travel to India for his eight-month teaching sabbatical, they hope for valuable marriage mending.

Aside from homeschooling her second-grader in India, Sharifa dives into researching her venerable great-great-grandfather Abdoolally and his rise from poverty to philanthropy. Family visits double as research sessions, ranging from willing contributions of bits and pieces to handed-down myths to hesitant refusals. Hazy stories about Abdoolally’s four wives—especially Zehra, whom he allegedly divorced—grab her imagination and expand her focus.

Meanwhile, conversation with her favorite cousins Fatema (a bisexual, outspoken feminist and activist) and Zainab (a traditional Bohra wife) turns to the uncomfortable subject of khatna, female genital mutilation/cutting. Sharifa learns khatna, assumed to be illegal and long believed by some to prevent girls from being sexually promiscuous, continues to be enforced by the women of the Bohra community.

To complicate matters, Fatema and Zainab hold diametrically-opposed views not only about the practice itself but also that it is performed on seven-year-old girls. When Fatema reveals most of the girls in their family have been cut, Sharifa is shocked. And when Zainab offers confirmation, Sharifa protests, insisting it never happened to her. 

Yet, this new knowledge, coated with panic, seeps into Sharifa’s relationships and research, and she unearths astonishing details about her predecessors.

Part domestic mystery and part call to action, the novel serves up tense encounters, private marital scenes, and personal victories and defeats. Doctor’s writing is skillfully layered, yielding a novel that is complex, gripping, and thought-provoking. Her ability to present a highly-readable story while raising awareness about a difficult topic is to be congratulated, and despite the weightiness of the subject, Doctor provides an occasional burst of humor, allowing the reader a moment to breathe and regroup. 

Seven is a singular engrossing, emotional, and empowering story of the strengths of women, family, and truth. Unreservedly, Doctor examines the thorny dualism of women’s lives—as victims vs. offenders; activism vs. suppression; responsibility vs. conformity; pre-marital sex vs. marital sex; belonging vs. longing. She is an accomplished storyteller whose characters are effortlessly embraced and not easily forgotten, and she hits the mark in this nuanced story about family dynamics and khatna’s adverse effects on women’s sexual, mental, and other health concerns.    

Seven is an important work about an abusive action that continues without a medical foundation. A khatna survivor herself, Doctor volunteers with WeSpeakOut, a global organization working to ban FGM/C in her Dawoodi Bohra community.

For more information about khatna-FGM/C, access the United States Office on Women’s Health and the United Nations International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, 6 February.


Jeanne E. Fredriksen lives in both Carolinas where she is a long-time contributor to India Currents, a Books for Youth reviewer for Booklist magazine/American Library Association, and a member of WCPE-FM The Classical Station’s Music Education Fund committee. She always wears a mask in public settings, avoids crowds, believes in social distancing, and washes her hands. 

Tea for Two

In Seeing Ceremony, Meera Ekkanath Klein’s sequel to her 2017 debut novel, My Mother’s Kitchen, the narrator, Meena, is now ready for college and continues to rebuff her mother’s need to subject her to seeing ceremonies in advance of formally arranging her marriage. The continuing obstacle is that Meena refuses to think about marriage until she returns home to Mahagiri, degree in hand, ready to begin her own life as an adult.

Her confidante and neighbor Mac, an elderly Scotsman who owns a tea plantation, is always ready to lend an ear and offer sage advice. However, reality enters Meena’s life when he reveals a friend is interested in purchasing Meena’s late father’s spice plantation. With the express understanding that the transaction will honor Meena’s father’s legacy, the money exchanged is Meena’s ticket to a college in California where her uncle is a professor.

During the brief pages devoted to Meena’s time at school, she studies agriculture, discovers Chinese tea, and embraces the calming concepts of the Japanese and Chinese tea ceremonies. It is then, in a flash of brilliance, that she understands creating a tearoom in which a variety of teas could be sampled and tea ceremonies would be held, maybe the answer to bolstering her mother’s remaining business.

On her journey home following graduation, Meena meets Raj Kumar, a young Indian businessman. They take an immediate liking to each other, and while at the airport in Singapore, they spend their layover time dining and chatting. As expected, neither can get the other out of their minds after going their own ways. Later, in a convenient twist, Meena and Raj come face to face again.

The bones of the story are good and hold promise, but much of the plot isn’t new. The seeing ceremony, arranged marriage, traditional vs. modern attitudes, and going to college in the U.S. are overused. Nevertheless, the elements of agriculture, introducing new crops, rotating crops, and bringing concepts from overseas are fresh enough to bring balance to the novel.

That said, this book should be a massive celebration of the senses, yet the ubiquitous spices, the meals prepared, the visit to a tribal village, and the vistas Meena experiences both at home and at her father’s plantation exist with an assumption that the reader is familiar with all of those essentials when sensual imagery would have enhanced Meena’s narrative and assisted in building her world. Instead, that part of the storytelling was incomplete, like a coloring book with pages half colored and abandoned.

On the plus side, Seeing Ceremony can be read as a standalone novel. It isn’t necessary to read My Mother’s Kitchen to enjoy this succeeding story. However, since the books are billed as novels with recipes, you may want to see what’s cooking in both. In “Kitchen,” the recipes are found at the end of chapters which, unfortunately, impede the reader’s flow. In “Ceremony,” the recipes are conveniently gathered at the end of the book.

If you’re in the market for a quick read that may take you away, introduce you to some interesting characters, tell a story of finding one’s way back home, and offer some recipes to spice up your next meal, this may be the book for you.

Jeanne E. Fredriksen lives in North and South Carolina where she is a Books for Youth reviewer for Booklist magazine/American Library Association and a member of WCPE-FM The Classical Station’s Music Education Fund committee. She is working on an assortment of fiction projects. 


Seeing Ceremony: A Novel with Recipes by Meera Ekkanath Klein. Homebound Publications. 270 Pages.