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 It's an important book, one that places a vital issue squarely on the table, makes it understandable and sympathetic, more than a sad fact of life in a far-away country. It's also a gripping read, hard to turn away from, hard to discount. Or to put on the shelf for later. The characters live and breathe; they are weak, brave, human; they can get under your skin and keep you awake at night. Susan O'Neill, author, Don't Mean Nothing


In My Sisters Made of Light, Jacqueline St. Joan uses her extensive travels and research in Pakistan—as well as her own experiences as a human rights activist, lawyer, and judge—to share with readers a compelling, heartbreaking, and sometimes terrifying look into the lives of women and men in the social, political, and religious maze that is Pakistan. The novel centers on activist sisters who dedicate themselves to helping the women of Pakistan.

My Sisters Made of Light is a novel about the extraordinary courage  of ordinary women living in the closed society that is contemporary  Pakistan.

It exposes Western readers to Pakistan’s myriad cultures—from the  mystical Sindhis in the South to the noble Pathans in the Northwest  Province, the Punjabis in the East and the Balochis of the West.

Ujala, a teacher-trainer, travels throughout her country trying to unravel the strands of violence that are braided into Pakistani life, most  notably “honor crimes” which engender pain and hopelessness in both their direct victims, as well as enabling social control of the  broader female population. Along the way she enlists her sisters,  her brother, her father, her students, and friends in the effort to  rescue those destined for honor crimes, and in the process she  rescues herself.

This raw but inspiring story of grass-roots resistance against oppression and injustice will spark the caring intelligence of  readers everywhere.

Praise for My Sisters Made of Light

 "Jacqueline St. Joan writes with the passion of a life-long feminist and the insight of wide experience. She brings to her story what she brought to the law, a conviction that life is full of both struggle and purpose and that grace comes to us when we have no reason to expect it." —Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina

"I started reading My Sisters Made of Light and could not put it down. It is a powerful story, well-presented, well-researched, and written with passion. The labor of duty became a labor of love. I read voraciously but have not come across a work which deals so effectively and skillfully with the cultural fault lines of Pakistani society." —S. Akhtar Ehtisham, author of A Medical Doctor Examines Life on Three Continents: A Pakistani View

"My Sisters Made of Light is an exquisitely-told story. By weaving her far-reaching knowledge, experience, and imagination, Jacqueline St. Joan’s characters and settings bloom. Its narrative movement is simultaneously dynamic and delicate, deftly floating the reader through scenes, internal points of view, and an overall intriguing story that resonates in both the physical and ethereal senses." —Tom Popp, managing editor of F Magazine

"My Sisters Made of Light is the riveting story of Ujala, a Pakistani schoolteacher imprisoned in Adiala Prison, a women's penitentiary that holds the lives of hundreds of Pakistani women in limbo. Abused and lost, these women all have heartbreaking stories of the violence that lead them to imprisonment. With caution and devotion, Ujala slowly reveals her story to Rahima Mai, the Women's Prison Supervisor, forming a bond with the woman who may hold the keys to her freedom.

Shifting back and forth in time, St. Joan unravels the unlikely history of Ujala's family— a clan of vibrant men and women who struggle to fight for women's rights and challenge the cultural constraints that hold them hostage. With shifting perspectives, the murky pasts of Ujala's parents are revealed and interspersed through Ujala's telling of her own journey through Pakistan aiding and abetting the escapes of women trapped in the grips of men who harm instead of heal.

Readers are transported into 1980s Pakistan, with Ujala's world in her beloved family compound on Clifton Road blooming to life through St. Joan's exquisitely detailed prose. The imagery pulses with life, every description creating a tactile world readers can almost touch and feel. This connection is integral to the telling of the story—the experiences of the women Ujala tries to save are gleaned from St. Joan's real life interviews with victims in Pakistan during her time as a human rights worker. And while this lends credibility to the text, the transformation into fiction necessitates a narrative that allows the reader to sink into a world where they are not met with dry facts and figures and instead are allowed to invest in Ujala's story through empathy.

While St. Joan's detailed rendering allows for this empathetic connection, the detail sometimes verges on excessive, clogging the narrative with too much information. An overall streamlining of the book would help tighten the story for maximum effectiveness.

This novel may at first appear to be another well-worn story of Western ideals trumping the backward ways of rustic Muslims. But St. Joan avoids sensationalizing her subject matter and succeeds where many authors exploring the same tension-wrought issues of women's rights in Muslim-ruled countries fail: she avoids a simplistic treatment of a complex issue and has created a text where female power is cultivated and wielded in ways that challenge instead of perpetuate popular perceptions and misconceptions of traditional Islam.

My Sisters Made of Light is a finalist for the Colorado Book Award in literary fiction. Half of the book's proceeds are donated to a Pakistani nonprofit organization constructing a shelter for women and children escaping abuse."

Shoilee KhanForeWord Reviews
July 14, 2011