The Stories We Live - Dundurn
Oct 01, 2021

The Stories We Live

I’ve always been interested in stories – how they shape our lives, and how our lives are expressed through them. Sometimes the stories we hear or tell ourselves help us, and other times, they hinder us. Some parts dominate, and others remain in the shadows. My debut memoir, The Shayṭān Bride: A Bangladeshi Canadian Memoir of Desire and Faith, was for me, an opportunity to examine and author my coming-of-age.

This literary memoir explores my experience emigrating to Canada and navigating desire and faith. I also share my experience escaping a forced marriage. When I began writing this book, I anticipated that my writing about the complex, taboo and misunderstood topic of forced marriage, among other themes, would only be scrutinized and misconstrued. I felt this especially intensely because of increasing Islamophobic hate crimes, lateral violence within South Asia, tension within the Muslim Ummah itself, and the legacy of colonialism at the bedrock of societies. I asked myself how I could share my personal experiences without them becoming weaved into the fabric of pre-existing, dominant stories about specific ethnicities, religions, cultures, genders. I asked myself how I could remain true to myself, and how my words could stand on their own.

The task at first, felt daunting, but there a few things that helped. For one, sharing multiple perspectives and contexts, both historical and present day, allowed me to dig deeper. The path from where we have been to where we go is not always linear. The more I examined history, the more this circularity and multidimensionality appeared on the page. ‘Playing’ within my craft, by using literary devices, particularly imagery, symbolism, and foreshadowing allowed me to be more flexible in how I communicated such a heavy, distressing experience which could elicit a range of reader responses. Finally, I looked for patterns in my writing. I challenged myself to look for aspects of my account that were present but maybe not as apparent or dominant. By bringing more attention to these aspects, I strove to create a more wholesome experience, for both myself and the reader. I asked myself to pay attention to the margins; what gets left out.

Were these strategies intentional? Hardly. In retrospect, I relived some of what I wrote as I wrote, and these strategies were what came to me as I made sense of the experience, once more. The process itself reminded me that we are all artists in our own lives, colouring in various shades, bringing various elements to the foreground versus background, blending together reality and fantasy to understand that the boundary between them could be questionable. By writing about the systemic forces in our lives, I do think it is possible to extract our voice out from all the noise – at least on the page.

The Shayṭān Bride is just as much about stories, and the scope of independence we have as the artists of our own lives, as it is about ‘the story’ itself.

Sumaiya Matin is a writer and a strategic advisor for the Ontario government, working on anti-racism initiatives. She lives in Toronto. Read more here.