Paula Xiberras

‘I recently spoke to Helen Thurloe, author of the novel ‘Promising Azra’ and she told me about how she has a good friend who moved to Tasmania for the beautiful natural environment. Helen herself is a regular visitor and tells me that she loves MONA.

From the world of art to science and the story of Azra. The title ‘Promising Azra’ has a double meaning, it refers to the promising of someone, as in marriage, and at the same time the title refers to a person of promise, in this case young Azra a promising scientist. These two types of ‘promising’ clash and we are left to wonder if the promising of marriage will prevent Azra from achieving her other ambition of attending university and becoming a scientist.

Azra the protagonist of the novel is caught in the difficult situation of wanting to please her parents by accepting an arranged marriage when she is not ready at this stage of her life and also fulfilling her academic potential.

Azra comes from a Pakistani background but Helen says the novel attempts to demonstrate that arranged marriages can occur in many different cultures from the Hasidic Jewish communities of New York to Hindu families around the world, to European families.

Helen has created a novel of complexity that makes us realise the untenable position Azra is in. Although she is smart and rational, indicated by her pursuit of science, none of these capabilities can help when dealing with emotive family traditions. Azra is caught between choosing to go against family wishes and by doing so possibly lose connection with her family short term or accepting their desires and so subjugating her own.

A feature of the novel is Helen’s inclusion of chemistry terms as chapter titles which although unintentional give the reader the chance to link them with Azra’s emotional journey as her own chemical balance is undone by her emotional state.

For instance the chemical term ‘denature’ which means ‘to deprive something of its natural character or properties so that it acts differently’. We see Azra deprived of her natural character and having to act differently in her familial interactions.

Books like ‘Promising Azra’ help shed light on the complexity of these emotive issues and a starting point for discussion between parents and children.

‘Promising Azra’ by Helen Thurloe is out now published by Allen and Unwin.