She Is Not Me
1980’s, Sweden. An Iranian family has reached safety after years in hiding. But when the parents’ visions of a new life in the northern land of freedom disintegrate in the face of harsh reality, it is their daughter who must carry the family’s dreams on her narrow shoulders. She Is Not Me is a shimmering tale of a young girl growing up in a gray factory town outside of Stockholm while her mother cries for the home country and her father struggles desperately to assimilate, to become Swedish. When the parents’ love is torn apart and the father’s thwarted hope turns into clenched fists, the little girl becomes a hostage in their fights.
She begins school and her father creates meticulous homework schedules that he pins above her bed. Being good is not enough; she must be the best. At everything. Only then can she fulfill the plan he has for her. But even though she toils night and day, she is not accepted as the talented student she is. Racism runs deep in Swedish society, from the boys in school who beat her up to the teacher who tells her she will never achieve the highest grades because of her “handicap.” Everyone has their place in this world, and she ought to know hers.
As a teenager, the girl meets Kawa who opens the door to Blatte-land, where boys with knives rule the concrete towers in Stockholm’s housing projects. Here she is the immigrant babe with glittery tops and push-up bras who teeters on towering stilettos. But also this is a disguise, one of her many selves. There is no belonging to find, so she returns to her father’s plan and her books.
She is accepted at the Elite University and quickly rises to the top of her class. But darkness lurks behind the perfect façade. She cuts herself to maintain control, vomits to keep the calories in check, and represses the racial threats she is subjected to. She does everything in her power to transform herself, to become what others want her to be, to adapt to what the plan demands. But is this really what her family’s dream of freedom was for?
She Is Not Me is the story of a big sister who tries to protect her little brother, a daughter who tries to protect her parents, an immigrant girl who struggles to find belonging, and a woman who struggles to achieve and ultimately survive under furious pressure.
She Is Not Me tackles some of the most difficult issues of our time with unfailing stylistic verve. The prose is electric and the story captivates from the very first page. With Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde, Scandinavia has gained an important new literary voice.
“She Is Not Me is beautifully written, and the imagery is startlingly effective at refreshing your view of the world. […] Needless to say, any voice which shuns simplicity and is willing to embrace complexity with regards to refugees and asylum seekers is invaluable at the moment.”
The Guardian (UK)
“She is not me grabs hold of you and refuses to let go, even when you have long since finished the book.”
Cutting Edge (NL)
“She is Not Me is not just a story about an immigrant family; it is a search for belonging; a search that many will be able to identify with.”
de Volkskrant (NL)
“She Is Not Me is one of the most brutally intimate depictions of the consequences of alienation that I have ever read… Golnaz Hashemzadeh’s novel is as well-written as it is important, and it ought to be mandatory reading for all adults who have some sort of responsiblity for children in general and high-achieving girls in particular.”
Helsingborgs Dagblad (SE)
“This is one of modern society’s true ür-stories – the child who must flee with her parents and start over. In this case from Iran which, during the late eighties, has become paralyzed by theocracy and endless war. The girl, who remains unnamed throughout the novel – only called the Persian “dokhtaram,” my daughter – arrives in a bleak Sweden that she, with a child’s natural ease, quickly learns to navigate.
The parents react differently: the father has endless faith in the future, if not for himself then for his daughter, while the radical mother views their exile as a betrayal and a defeat. Above all, they plummet through the strata of the class society, thrown as they are into the poorest possible Swedish milieu. And the father’s disappointment manifests itself in repeated abuse of his wife. The daughter becomes the Project – she will rise; she won’t just become someone, she will become the best. When she ultimately becomes both the President of the Student Association at the “Elite School” and is hired at a prestigious consulting firm, she is already deeply entrenched in anorexia and other self-destructive behavior.
Perhaps the strongest section of the novel deals with the teenage girl’s attraction to Blatte-land. She allows herself to be drawn into a subculture where the only common denominator is what you are not: a “real” Swede. This is where the fascinating character Kawa appears – a vaguely criminal man the girl is attracted to and who, instead of using her, sets her straight: She doesn’t belong here.
Just like her parents, he sends her upwards, into echelons of society that he himself will never have access to. When she is finally accepted at the “Elite School,” she is faced with the exact same rites of passage, the same subcultural alienation mechanisms, the same pecking order and group pressure as in Blatte-land – elegantly symbolized by the retro-platform shoe that proves suitable for both contexts.
The insight that Hashemzadeh’s protagonist comes to in the end is what is usually dubbed “the insight of anarchy:” that hierarchies in and of themselves are what destroy people – whatever these hierarchies may be. All systems where you must establish yourself above someone while subordinating yourself to someone else are what strip us of our freedom, whether it is the business elite or Blatte-land. The Daughter’s life mission is to climb, to pull herself up by her bootstraps, to “become something.” But the conclusion, and what the parents say in the end, is: “Freedom, that is what we came for.”
The pressure the Daughter feels is something everyone who has made a class-journey will recognize. Don’t become like us. Make better use of your opportunities – and feel how your old world is cut off behind you while you are never able to truly become part of your new one. It is above all this kind of class narrative Hashemzadeh has written, and it is a perceptive one, rising as it does from a Sweden where class and ethnicity are intertwined more and more in precisely the complicated way she depicts.”
Dagens Nyheter (SE)
“Golnaz Hashemzadeh has written an important novel. I hope there will be more!”
“Hashemzadeh captures so much in her well-chosen words. (…) She Is Not Me is an incredibly worth-while coming of age story about immigrant alienation, a modern feminist depiction of what it is like to be the girl who succeeds at everything she sets out to do but still never finds satisfaction, and an eloquent novel about the search for freedom.”
Borås Tidning (SE)
“She depicts the divides in society – both those that reside within a person and without – in a credible way.”
“She Is Not Me is a story about freedom, families who escape from terror only to face the discrimination of the ignorant – and that is only part of what will break your heart. This novel is a tour de force that all should read.”
We Love This Book (UK)