May 29, 2014 | by Shafinaaz Hassim
Review of SoPhia discussion at Miriam Tlali Bookclub

I cannot express enough the significance of reading. Book discussions, especially with the author present, are just another significant engagement I find fulfilling. bellow, see the reflections on the Miriam Tlali Reading & Book Club May session. (Sindiswa Seakhoa)

MIRIAM TLALI READING AND BOOK CLUB – BOOK DISCUSSION REFLECTION
By Noel Dube
Book: Sophia
Author: Shafinaaz Hassim
Date: 24 May 2014
Venue: Museum Africa
Facilitator: Mrs. Sindiswa Seakhoa
Programme Director: Raks Seakhoa

The second book discussion of the year featured Shafinaaz Hassim, a sociologist author whose works include Daughters are Diamonds: Honour, Shame & Seclusion- A South African Perspective” and “Memoirs For Kimya”. The discussion started at 14:00 and ended at 16H00.
The book, titled Sophia, was released in 2012, and focuses largely on the issue of domestic violence. The author also announced that the work is her first encounter with fiction.
In introducing the book to the audience, Shafinaaz read excerpts of the book that are relevant to its main theme, and at the same time she introduced the audience to the main characters of the novel. She informed that the book was born out of her (Shafinaaz) intention to question the autonomy of women. With that, the book therefore addresses the perpetuation of (domestic) violence to a point whereby the victim “becomes part of his/her own problem”. The author clarified that she was aware that although domestic violence is not limited to ‘male-on-female’ violence only, the work primarily focuses on that kind of violence as it is a global problem. She also acknowledges the presence of the various forms of violence which include emotional, physical, financial and a number of other forms in relationships.
Introducing the title of the book (Sophia), and the motif of Sophia, Shafinaaz informed that the title is derived from a Greek name ‘Sophia’, which means ‘wisdom’ (or love for wisdom). The work may therefore be considered as concerned with a woman’s quest for enough wisdom to move out of an abusive relationship. However, ‘Sophia’ is not a character in the book, but that idea of wisdom as it is needed to realize the presence of violence in a relationship. Introducing the main characters, Shafinaaz introduced the main conflict between a married couple, Zarreen and Akram, who are the main characters of the novel. From the beginning, Zarreen is already a victim of domestic violence at the hands of Akram, and the abuse is also seen physically.
A member of in the audience posed a question to the author to the effect of how much of the plot was drawn from sociological research and how much was drawn from the author’s personal life. Shafinaaz informed that the plot of the book is fictional, whilst its themes are not. She informed that one of the book’s concerns was the question of what constitutes moral behavior. She explained this as the situation whereby people live according to what the society expected. She acknowledged the fact that of course there was some good happening among people, however there was also the bad, domestic violence included. She posed a question of ‘can’t the society have more of the good’? Summing up that aspect of the book, Shafinaaz informed that her view was that moral behavior is a personal thing that has little to do with the society around an individual.
Another question from the audience was directed at the author, seeking her opinion on how male children can be nurtured to continue their attachment to their mothers (and later their partners) in a tender way that will not give space to domestic violence. The question actually sought ideas into how the young male child may be nurtured to be protective of his spouse. Other audience members offered their views into the same concept, with some pointing the source of the problem as located in power. It was discussed how the modern family structure of women who sometimes earn more than their spouses could also be a contributing factor to domestic violence. The audience also exchanged views on how the problem of money may be both contributor and non-contributor to the problem. Another view made use of Sophia’s plot that Akram is a wealthy male, however he continues to abuse his wife brutally and in many ways. Therefore the problem of abuse could also be seen as not a result of poverty, or the source of income being the female partner. Many views from the audience pointed the problem to society, and Shafinaaz acknowledged that the male section of society has a lot to contribute to the perpetuation of domestic violence on females.
The audience also introduced the view of the contribution of democracy to domestic abuse/ violence, or the relationship between the two. This view was based on the fact that most societies, particularly take for granted a number of ‘privileges’ that they have during the time of peace, but they suddenly put a lot of value in them in times of war or other disturbances. The author was of the view that from her perspective, the challenge of domestic violence was a global problem that could be considered to be having little to do with democracy or its lack. Actually, the same problem shows itself in many forms even in times of war, with audience members giving examples of the rapes that take place during war, even in other African countries. She therefore brought the problem back into the South African context, reminding the audience that there is nothing dire at the moment, there is no war, but the challenge of violence of the said form may be addressed.
The writer made in indirect call to everyone to consider engaging in any form of activism directed at either lessening or eliminating the problem of domestic violence. She lamented the apparent habit of today’s youth of viewing activism as an outdated practice, something which can only be left to earlier generations who were given to diligent protests in the face of humanitarian challenges. Her opinion was that as far as domestic violence was concerned, there was not enough activism as suggested by the prevalence of the problem. She offered a recommendation that although the challenge had become a global phenomenon, local solutions can be produced by immediate societies. The problem may be effectively addressed at a local level.
The unfortunate contribution of family to the perpetuation of domestic violence was also tabled. The author offered a perspective of family members who indirectly contribute to the continued violence by not condemning or reporting it. The fear of society’s judgment was also partly to blame for the same factor, because families do not want their societies to view them as plagued by abuse or violence. She addressed in the book by how the narrative always came back to Zarreen, in a way laying blame on the victim because the family cannot adequately condemn what she is going through. Shafinaaz also acknowledged how the problem of violence is seen across spaces, i.e. races, tribes and other divides. She did not intend to limit it to the race she created in the work. In response to the narrative used, Shafinaaz clarified that the book is written in third person narrative throughout, although the personal tends to ‘creep’ in now and then.
Conclusively, the session can be considered to have been a success in its own terms. A lot was uncovered in the duration of the session, and the book was highly appreciated as a good voice in the fight against domestic violence. Although open to much debate, the issue of domestic violence was agreed by the club as an unwanted phenomenon that can be addressed like any other challenge. Responding to a view that her work was one of those that preoccupied themselves with the bad of society, the writer acknowledged that she considered it her duty to address a wrong when she saw it as a way of contributing to reducing or solving it. The tendency of domestic violence to negatively affect children was presented by the author as an urgent matter that called for solutions.
The next discussion will be as follows:
Date : 21st of June
Time : 14H00 – 16H00
Venue : Museum Africa, Downtown
Book title : The Bull from Moruleng
Author : Molefe Pheto

Entrance is free
NB: The discussion starts at the 14H00

Shafinaaz Hassim is a sociologist based in Johannesburg. She is the author of 'Daughters are Diamonds: Honour, Shame & Seclusion -- A South African Perspective' (2007), 'Memoirs for Kimya' (2009), and the critically acclaimed novel on domestic violence 'SoPhia' (2012). Her work has been shortlisted for the University of Johannesburg Creative Writing Prize and the prestigious K Sello Duiker Award 2013, and she has been awarded in Hay Festival's category of top 39 authors under the age of 40 in Africa during the London Book Fair 2014. She is also the editor of the Belly of Fire anthologies for social change series, which was launched in 2011. Her research focuses on biographical narrative in the interplay between personal and political spaces and she writes both fiction and non-fiction. She has lectured and presented seminars at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, Humboldt University in Berlin and at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

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About Shafinaaz

Shafinaaz Hassim is a sociologist based in Johannesburg. She is the author of Daughters are Diamonds: Honour, Shame & Seclusion -- A South African Perspective (2007), Memoirs for Kimya (2009), and the critically acclaimed novel on domestic violence SoPhia (2012). She is also the editor of the Belly of Fire anthologies for social change series, which was launched in 2011. Her research focuses on biographical narrative in the interplay between personal and political spaces and she writes both fiction and non-fiction. She has lectured and presented seminars at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, Humboldt University in Berlin and at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

My Books

The Garden of Love and Longing (2017)

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Nisa Qamar and the Master of Jinniaville (2016)

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Princess Rasgulla and the Ponytail Monster (2017)

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My Social Profiles
Photos on flickr
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