A disease has decimated the population of women in Green City, the capital of South West Asia, and the government has conscripted the remaining females into polygamy and forced procreation with multiple husbands. But a collective of women living underground have refused to comply and work instead as intimate, non-sexual consorts to powerful men.
Shah’s work reads like a thriller. She develops her multiple characters beautifully, and she presents the stomach-turning plight of women well. The social commentary in the novel, specifically in the parallels between Sabine’s world and the patriarchal nature of conservative Muslim countries, is exquisite. The ending feels a little rushed, but this is a thoughtful novel that will stick with me for a very long time.
The use of multiple narrators keeps the pace brisk, while details of the society are slowly revealed. Pakistani author Shah’s second novel...will undoubtedly draw comparisons to the mother of all feminist dystopias, The Handmaid’s Tale, and book groups will find much to discuss comparing the two. But make no mistake, Before She Sleeps stands on its own as a novel that will have readers contemplating rebellion and revolt, sex and power, and the many ways women’s bodies are sacrificed for the good of society.
I want to tell you that Before She Sleeps by Bina Shah is well-crafted feminist dystopian science fiction. In many ways it is. But it fails for me in two key areas: queerness and authorial intent ... Before She Sleeps is deeply, frustratingly, and inexplicably focused on cisnormativity and heteronormativity. The characters do not refute, scrutinize, or criticize how Green City constructs gender roles, identities, or expressions ... Frankly, I think it’s a shame Sabine was written as cishet. Her storyline would have had so much more social commentary with some queerness folded in. But Shah still could have used the background narrative to venture beyond the rigid rules of cis/heteronormativity even while keeping the protagonists cishet ... That by the end of the novel I know more about Green City’s malls than I do its queer community is disappointing to say the least ... A lot of people are going to love this novel no matter my objections. It will appear on lists of the best feminist and dystopian fiction for years to come. And maybe it should. Although the overarching context of Before She Sleeps didn’t work for me, I was still captivated by Bina Shah. She concocted a moving tale about a frightening future that could all too easily come to pass. As much as I was concerned by what Shah left out, what was on the page was beautifully written.