What We Owe
Nahid has six months left to live. Or so the doctors say. But Nahid is not the type to trust anyone. She resents the cancer diagnosis she has been given and the doctor who has given it to her. Bubbling inside her is also resentment toward life as it turned out, and the fact that it will go on without her. She feels alone, alone with her illness and alone with her thoughts. She yearns yet fails to connect with her only daughter, Aram. As the rawness of death draws near, Nahid should want to protect Aram from pain. She knows she should. Yet what is a daughter but one born to share in her mother’s pain?
At fifty, Nahid is no stranger to death. As a Marxist revolutionary in eighties Iran, she saw loved ones killed in the street and was forced to flee to Sweden. She and her husband abandoned their roots to build a new life in a new country. They told themselves they did it for their newborn daughter, so she could live free. But now as she stands on the precipice facing death, Nahid understands that what you thought you escaped will never let you go. And without roots, can you ever truly be free?
Nahid tells her story in an unfiltered and completely unsentimental voice that rushes over the reader like a tidal wave. She may not be likeable, but she is instantly captivating. And the forbidden thoughts she voices hit home like a punch to the gut. Vivid flashbacks to revolutionary Iran are interspersed with serene scenes of glittering Swedish summer days. We get to know Nahid as a child, eager and vulnerable, a daughter raised to empowerment in a family with seven sisters. We see her as a teenage idealist, dressed in bellbottoms, her black hair in plaits, with a righteous struggle in her eyes and in her heart. As a mother on foreign soil, who fails over and over again to protect the daughter she loves the most. As a daughter on her deathbed, longing for the mother she betrayed. Then comes the hope of a grandchild, a baby girl who will not only make Nahid immortal, but also serve as payment for what she owes. Now survival becomes a race against time – will Nahid live long enough to meet her grandchild?
Told in a furious exhale, What We Owe is a story as much about uprootal and loss as it is about the powerful yet agonizing bonds between mothers and daughters. Through a style so direct and devastating it is impossible to shield yourself against, Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde asks the difficult questions: What do we pass on to our children? And what do we owe those we love?