Thursday, 7 March 2019

The Pact We Made by Layla AlAmmar

The Pact We Made by Layla AlAmmar
Published in the UK by Borough Press.

One of my 2019 New Release Challenge reads

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘How could I explain to her that nothing in my life felt real? That in a country like Kuwait, where everyone knew everything about each other, the most monumental thing to ever happen to me was buried and covered over? For the sake of my reputation, my future, my sister’s and cousins; the family honor sat on my little shoulders, so no-one could ever know.’

Dahlia has two lives. In one, she is a young woman with a good job, great friends and a busy social life. In the other, she is an unmarried daughter living at home, struggling with a burgeoning anxiety disorder and a deeply buried secret: a violent betrayal too shameful to speak of.

With her thirtieth birthday fast-approaching, pressure from her mother to accept a marriage proposal begins to strain the family. As her two lives start to collide and fracture, all Dahlia can think of is escape: something that seems impossible when she can’t even leave the country without her father’s consent.

But what if Dahlia does have a choice? What if all she needs is the courage to make it?

Set in contemporary Kuwait, The Pact We Made is a deeply affecting and timely debut about family, secrets and one woman’s search for a different life.

A good choice to read for International Women's Day, Layla AlAmmar's debut, The Pact We Made, is a striking reminder of how many women around the world don't benefit from the hard-won freedoms we women in the West often now take for granted. AlAmmar's heroine, Dahlia, is restricted in her life choices by her family's need to conform to social expectations at all costs and by her own conditioning to never stand out from the crowd or to do anything that might encourage even a hint of gossip. I was amazed at Dahlia being basically considered a child within her society purely because she is still unmarried. This woman is twenty-nine years old, holds down a fairly responsible job and should be perfectly capable of making her own decisions and her own mistakes. However, she isn't even allowed to reside outside the family home, let alone travel independently!

Throughout The Pact We Made Dahlia speaks directly to readers in the first person and I appreciated that we get to hear her even though it frequently seems as though no one else in her life is truly listening. AlAmmar manages to put across her increasing desperation at being trapped and I could understand how this situation leads her to make increasingly outrageous choices. It interested me that these were often surprisingly childish choices. Dahlia hasn't the maturity that her physical age would suggest and it takes a lot for her to realise this. I could understand her inner conflict between wanting to blame her family for both her current predicament and for the hurt she suffered as a teenager, yet she wonders eventually whether it is still actually fair to shirk taking responsibility herself. She had practically no control over her life a decade ago, but is that still true now?

I thought The Pact We Made was a thought-provoking coming of age novel, especially as its protagonist is so much older than is standard for this genre. AlAmmar portrays Kuwaiti life and culture in an interesting way and, while I certainly didn't like all her characters, I did enjoy the time I spent in their company. I loved the use of the yathoom demon to illustrate Dahlia's inner paralysis particularly as I only recently first saw the Fuseli painting The Nightmare (which depicts such a demon crouching on a sleeping woman) in the TV show The Fall, and now Dahlia picks out the image herself. Her art choices allowed me further insights into her precarious state of mind which is so completely at odds with how she 'should' be. I would recommend The Pact We Made to readers interested in stories about mental health and women's independence.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Layla AlAmmar / Contemporary fiction / Books from Kuwait


  1. It's horrifying how little rights some women still have in the world. This definitely sounds like a thought-provoking read. Thanks for sharing. I'm glad to hear you really enjoyed it.


    1. Yes, women in Kuwait have so little personal freedom and it seems it's often other women as much as men who are enforcing the restrictions because social appearance is everything in this society

  2. It's hard to think that it's still so hard for so many women in other parts of the world.

    1. Exactly! This novel helped reinforce to me that we still have a lot to do in Europe, but we have already achieved such a lot :-)