Lucy Ferriss

"If Khaled Hosseini was a woman, and had played squash long enough to have knowledge of the force and arc of the overhead serve--but more important, if he had the love for daughters and the strength and wisdom of mothers, he could have dreamed of writing A Sister to Honor."

Amitava Kumar, author of A Matter of Rats

"Afia and Shahid's painful struggle is intricately crafted, and the cultural nuances are evocatively depicted in this thought-provoking novel." --Publishers Weekly

"A Sister To Honor is more than a story about a brother and sister who leave their homeland and learn a new culture and freedom in the United States. Lucy Ferriss paints a vivid picture of a tension-filled cultural divide between family and self."

Sheri de Grom, From the Literary and Legislative Trenches

A Sister to Honor

The idea for A Sister to Honor came close to home. Trinity College, where I teach, has the best squash team in the country. Its players hail from different countries, different cultures and religions, and yet they need to bond as a team in order to succeed. Through my own family, I’ve known something about international sports and the competition to garner sports scholarships to American universities; I’ve also known many coaches, who care deeply about their players but are often torn between what’s best for the player, what’s best for the team, and what it takes to win. I asked myself, as I observed the Trinity team, where the best squash players in the world came from. A little research told me: they come from the Pashtun area of Pakistan, the same area that has spawned the Taliban.

Knowing how influential an athlete with a prestigious scholarship can be, I then asked myself: What if a talented Pashtun squash player got a scholarship to an American university, and persuaded his family to let his younger sister, a brilliant girl with ambitions to become a doctor, come with him to the United States to study? And what if that sister were to fall in love?

At that point, in mid-2012, I realized I could not invent the answers to my questions. I had to go to the source, and ask the people who could supply the answers. So I traveled to northern Pakistan, to Peshawar and the countryside. I experienced the warm, almost limitless hospitality of the Pashtun people. I came to understand something of their history and their current struggles. And I talked to families—fathers and mothers, young men and young women—until I felt I understood something of what might happen, and why. And then I sat down, full of apprehension, and wrote A Sister to Honor.

This is a novel about Pakistani people in America, but it is also a novel about America. About our own sense of honor, and where and how we compromise it. About the risks we take with our ambitions, and with our hearts. I hope you enjoy it.

Don't forget to download the Reader's Guide, below!

"A collision of cultures between star-crossed lovers redefines the meaning of honor in this modern-day literary thriller.”
—A. Manette Ansay, author of Good Things I Wish You

"Though uncompromising in her vision, Lucy Ferriss is also generous, large-hearted.  A Sister to Honor is not just about hate and violence, but about love in its many forms—romantic, maternal, filial.”
—Lisa Zeidner, author of Love Bomb

“A powerful exploration of faith, family, and the deep cultural divides that threaten to destroy these in our modern world. Ferriss has written a remarkable novel that strikes the perfect balance between the global and the personal.”
Ivy Pochoda, author of Visitation Street

 


Download the Readers' Guide

 

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These photos, taken during my time in northern Pakistan, provided the inspiration for many scenes in A SISTER TO HONOR. All captions are taken from the book, beginning with this description from outside Peshawar: “Motorcycles crowded the lanes, women sitting sidesaddle on the back of the seat with packages or children in their laps, their husbands dodging the wildly painted buses where workers sat cross-legged on top. Back in Devon, Massachusetts, Shahid had missed this life-threatening bustle, where no one felt compelled to stay in his lane and vehicles swarmed like a school of fish.” 

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“Shahid stepped out and stretched. The brisk air felt warm compared to the bone chill of Massachusetts. Dozens of times, Baba had taken him home over this road, stopping always for fish. He waved a boy over and gave him a handful of coins. ‘Naan,’ he ordered, ‘and three chai.’”

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“Dotting the riverbank now were the thatched fishhouses fronted by dories unloading their morning catch. ‘They look like party favors,’ Shahid said, his hot forehead resting against the cool window. ‘Like those pastel cellophane things kids pull apart at American parties, and there’s candy or something inside.’”

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“Bringing his tea and bread to where his father oversaw the gutting and cooking of the fish, he breathed the familiar stench of river weeds and the fishermen’s kerosene fires.”

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“His village—the hoarse calls of its vendors, the rough bricks of its streets—suited him now. Khalid would have the farm; he understood that. But he wanted to run through the alleys the way he had as a kid, racing the other boys to the river. Baba drove the Suzuki slowly, avoiding cats and goats.”

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“Ahead lay the warren of houses where the farmworkers lived. Behind their walls of mud and hay sat thatched sheds occupied by goats and cows lazily swatting flies, while grooved canals ran waste from the courtyard latrines down to the fields. Disks of dung, slapped onto the courtyard walls, dried in the sun. She still remembered coming here for the first time, how all the villagers had brought her little gifts, embroidered fans and flour sifters.” 

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“Afia took a cloth and went to wipe her grandmother’s chin. When the old woman lifted her eyes to Afia’s face, the glassy blue bore through her. Anâ no longer recognized her grandchildren. She could barely swallow, had to be fed by hand. But she appeared to know a lie when she heard one.”

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“Anâ and Moray, she had explained to her sister when Sobia began staring wide-eyed at the raised voices and shaken fists, were like two birds who chattered the same things over and over at each other. My house, my house, my house, Anâ chattered, while Moray sang back, But I’m here, I’m here, I’m here, but I’m here.”

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“That night Farishta lay awake, listening as if something in the darkness would call to her, would ask for her strong hands, her quick tongue. . . . A strange seizure of desire for Tofan crept over her—desire she’d never felt before, when he first took her to his bed and did more slowly and gently what his brother had done with quick dispatch.”

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“And then this morning, a bright and breezy Thursday, the village women went to gather mulberries. . . . Their men were all in the fields or at the factory; they couldn’t see the dupattas slip from their women’s heads and shoulders, couldn’t hear the jokes they made.”

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“From the bowed branches of the trees the mulberries hung like fat worms, some purple and others—the sweeter ones—creamy white. In a bright blue shalwar kameez with giant yellow sunflowers printed on the fine cotton, Farishta held the baskets.”

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“Soon a dozen trees sported women like colorful birds, dropping fistfuls of mulberries into Farishta’s baskets. When they returned, they would eat the mulberries fresh, bake them into cakes, dry them to put out, months later, in bright woven bowls alongside bowls of pistachios and dates when someone important came to tea.”

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“He had wandered away, past the mulberry orchard and the first field of cotton, past the willows lining the stream and around the bend toward the deep area they used as a swimming hole. It was late summer then, the heat finally lifting from the earth; and late in the day, too, past the time when the village boys would leap from a tree branch into the deep water.”

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“Together with Panra, Tayyab’s daughter who was two weeks older than Afia, they had climbed mulberry trees and sneaked off to swim in the river. Dark-eyed and broad-cheeked, Lema was always the boldest of them.”

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“At the top of the hill stood a figure in a royal-blue burqa. She sighed. So many were covering completely, now. Her sister-in-law Gautana had said the other day that the burqa was the easiest solution, all in one and no worry about slippage. She wondered who the woman was, why she would stand and watch the mulberry picking and not participate.”

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“The wildly painted rickshaws, the call of the sugarcane juice wallah, the night watchman’s whistle, the odor of petrol and sugar and dust in the air.”

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“She was, Afia thought, a work of art. A red veil edged with a broad swath of gold and green embroidery, studded with mirrors and bits of colored glass, fell from the crown of her head over her shoulders, leaving her face exposed. From the top hung a diadem of ruby and gold in the center of her forehead, echoed by the heavy necklace that lay across her collarbone, above the tight embroidered bodice of her ruby-red gown. Her face looked, not beautiful, but majestic, with the deep kohl around her eyes and several pairs of false lashes; her cheeks both whitened and rouged at the bones, her small mouth stained red, almost in the shape of a heart.”

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