Review: Stained by Abda Khan

Reading a novel about the rape of a young woman and how it changes her life irrevocably isn’t easy. Considering that nearly 1 in 5 women have been raped or have experienced attempted sexual assault — that this is a reality in the world we live in — makes reading a novel that explores the subject even harder. But stories like Stained  are an important aspect of the ongoing conversations around sexual assault and rape culture. It’s clear that author Abda Khan cares deeply about this issue and wanted to explore it with the respect and nuance it deserves. 

It’s been well-documented that many women, especially in the past but even today, do not report sexual assaultFor a variety of reasons, victims of rape and sexual assault stay silent, especially if they live in conservative communities or if they don’t have their communities’ support. Rape culture is, unsurprisingly, monumentally oppressive and encourages women to stay silent or experience backlash. It’s even worse for women of color

Stained by Abda Khan is a novel that examines the stifling presence of rape culture and the psychological trauma victims of sexual violence must face. The title immediately evokes negative connotations. My initial, personal, reaction to it wasn’t very positive either, as I saw it as reductive term for survivors of sexual assault. But after I saw how the novel explores cultural taboos and rape culture, the term makes sense, even as one that is self-imposed. 

Stained by Abda KhanThe story follows young Selina Hussain, a British-born Pakistani who is eager to attend university after she passes her graduating exams. Selina isn’t very interested in marriage or dating anyone for the time being. All she wants is to attend university, but she’s nervous about her upcoming Economics exam preventing her to get perfect marks in all her courses. It is then that a trusted family friend, Zubair Qureshi, offers to tutor Selina so she may pass her exam. Zubair is like an uncle to Selina. He is a trusted member of the community with much privilege, wealth, and is considered to be a moral and upstanding citizen. But underneath the glossy veneer lies a predator. Selina is unsuspecting and trusting, which Zubair exploits to sexually assault her.

From that point forth, Selina shifts into self-preservation mode. She wants to protect herself from further harm as well as her family’s reputation. I don’t want to give too much away, but it should be obvious to you now that Selina does not report the rape. At least not initially. For the rest of the novel, we see Selina go to extreme lengths to avoid ridicule and ignominy, none of which she deserves but which rape culture is more than happy to bestow upon victims of sexual assault. 

There’s much to like about Stained. The writing is efficient and places us in Selina’s mind and helps us understand her actions and motivations. The depiction of how a conservative community, emotional blackmail, and rape culture all lead to an intelligent young woman to not report her sexual assault is realistic and therefore upsetting. But what I enjoyed most about this novel was how ultimately, the story was about Selina’s strength and growth as a survivor. The title and book cover may not indicate this, but Selina emerges a stronger person out of this ordeal. In the end, she refuses to allow her life to be defined by the men around her, whether they are positive or negative influences in it. She wants to carve out a life of her own and define its parameters herself. This feminist message strengthens the story and provides an important perspective.

Far too many women still do not report sexual assault, so it is crucial that narratives, both in television and literature, explore this difficult topic. Selina’s story deserves to be told so that other women who have faced sexual assault may find courage in Selina’s strength and perseverance to speak up. Eradicating rape culture will require a cultural shift, which won’t be easy. That is why stories such as these are crucial to making this cultural shift a reality. 

Stained will be released in America on October 3rd, 2016; it is Abda Khan’s debut novel. She is a British Pakistani lawyer turned writer who wants to explore the issues affecting women in the British Pakistani/Asian community through her writing. 

Visit her website: AbdaKhan.com

Follow on Twitter: 

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 


Thank you for reading. Enter your email below for frequent updates from RDB!

Receive New Posts By Email

14 thoughts on “Review: Stained by Abda Khan

  1. This sounds like a fascinating book, though I suspect I will cry buckets and probably traumatize myself. I get why “Stained” seems like a negative connotation, but I also get the cultural significance. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    1. And thank you for reading, Vijayalakshmi. :]
      The book isn’t as devastating as it sounds. Most of it is based on Selina’s growth as a person and finding the confidence to carve her own path in life. But yes, it might be triggering for some people.

  2. Amazing review, Naz! Thanks for bringing this book to my attention. It sounds fascinating (which seems like the wrong word to use about a book dealing with these topics, but…). I’m definitely going to be adding it to my TBR!

  3. Hey Vijayalakshmi. I think Naz is right. I don’t want to give too much away, but basically whilst there are moments in the novel that may stir up a whole host of emotions, the story is one of hope over adversity, for when there is nothing else left, one always has hope. That was the underlying feeling as I was writing it. I do hope you will enjoy it 🙂

  4. This sounds like a great read. I wonder if I would be devastated after the read. Most of the new contemporary novels seem to be heart breaking and I wish I could get my hands on a happier read. Which is why now I am resorting to read some older lit.

    I am glad you found that the book shows the cultural restrictions of the unfair situation that befalls the heroine. I am glad this is a journey of discovery for her – it makes me hopeful that if there are people in similar situations they can speak out and find courage like her. After all, its from books that we can get that courage. Great review

    1. I like a good mix of happy/lighthearted books and ones with darker and heavier subjects. Though I do admit to prefer books with darker themes! Just a preference.
      The first 3rd of the book may be a sad and devastating for some, but the rest of the novel is more about the endurance of the human spirit. It ends in a very hopeful note.

  5. Excellent review. I have a very hard time reading books like this, in part because my work focuses on violence against women. I turn to literature for a break (as awful as that sounds). I will add that right now, we’re facing a huge backlash from people who are trying to keep rape culture intact. It’s very alarming. So, I appreciate that you’ve written about this topic in such a thoughtful way.

    1. It’s understandable that you’d need breaks from books like this. I would too in your situation.

      Rape culture is vile and destructive. I can’t believe some people actively try to keep it alive to continue hurting women. Every year there are stories that simply break my heart and don’t give me any hope that misogyny, toxic masculinity, and rape culture will ever go away. Thankfully, this book ends on a positive note.

  6. This sounds amazing if brutal, but I’m glad to hear a lot of the book focuses on survival and life after. This hits especially hard when we remember that it really is someone the survivor knows in most cases of rape. Love how this book explores this issue and I hope it will shows families they have to stand up for those harmed and not family name or the rapist. But I have to say that talking to all kinds of people, rape culture keeps coming up, little things that make me doubt they wouldn’t ask what she was doing/wearing or sticking up for their buddy/uncle/father. It’s horrifying.

    1. Fortunately, the story itself and depiction of the rape aren’t brutal. Though of course it should come with a trigger warning for survivors.
      I’m disheartened by the the tenacity with which rape culture sticks around. Some people actively or passively perpetuate it. It really is horrifying.

Let's start a discussion!