Before Time – Review

May 17, 2015

First published in 2014 (Kindle), Before Time by Xunaira J. is the first book of a new series in tragic romance genre that explores relationship in the cyber world. Exploring mIRC chat software, Xunaira takes us through the lives of two people. Onaiza, a Islamabad-based girl preparing for medical school admission and Asher, a workaholic guy currently outside Pakistan.

The book will soon be launched in Pakistan and currently undergoing printing.

Synopsis

Nineteen-year-old Onaiza Shahid is a loner and a dreamer, bookish and socially isolated. A chance ramble into a chatting software changes everything. The words of a stranger compel her. Addicted and falling fast, their secret love changes her life. But will the idealistic teenager get her happily ever after?

The World of mIRC

Most of the story takes place in mIRC where Onaiza and Asher chat anonymously. Most of the people they interact with, none know each others real names. The story starts with Onaiza encountering cyber harassment and banning the user, then chatting with the user Impassioned (Asher’s nickname) and having an intellectual discussion. The story moves on to Onaiza’s real life where we see her relation with her parents, siblings and her friends. Right after chatting with Asher she gets a call from her best friend Sarah and they go out to their favorite hangout places in Islamabad. Later on Onaiza gets busy with her sister’s wedding and we see her cyber relationship blossom as pressures from real life begin to affect her.

The plot itself is not so incredible nor the story much unique, but the balance the author found between Onaiza’s real and cyber world with a good first-person narrative makes it enjoyable read.

Islamabad

The story is set in Islamabad and Onaiza’s life and interactions give an authentic feel of the city. Names of real places have been used in story and Onaiza’s preferences show what they are known for. Areas such as Jinnah Supermarket and Kuch Khaas are prominent with other shops and restaurants making their presence felt.

Similarly the author has also explored mIRC well, anonymous interactions between various people and how cyber bullying impact the victims. The way chat rooms have general discussions and users move on to private chat streams for personal discussions is well highlighted through Onaiza’s experiences.

Cyber Romance

Onaiza isn’t new to relationships, having broken up with her boyfriend not too long ago and believes love doesn’t exist. The author kept the description realistic, including cultural biases, when discussion about previous boyfriend came up:

Chapter 9

Yes, I used to have a boyfriend who turned out to be an asshole and he had fucked up with me. That’s why they say, Never data a Pathan guy. I snickered at that comment. They are leeches and their possessiveness would just kill you, like it was killing me.

Asher seems to compliment her ideas, giving some philosophical as well as realistic opinions about love that Onaiza doesn’t contradict. Not only is Asher more understanding of love, he has a past that he is not willing to share about with others. Just like in real life, where people bond when they open up to each other, Onaiza and Asher try to find a balance between their cyber selves and slowly open up about their lives. As Asher’s story unfolds, Onaiza is gripped with the force of his personality and is both mesmerized as well as irritated with his principles.

And their characters are flawed just like every human being. Asher, a cynical man with tragic past, says at one point:

Impassioned: I don’t want to reopen my wounds. Because people believe it’s a lie or they think it’s an excuse to gain sympathy. What they don’t know is that behind every hard, cold and cynical man, there are many secrets, which cannot be shared with everyone.

With tragic pasts, both Onaiza and Asher experience spiritual growth as they explore their friendship bond and get to know more about each other’s real selves.

Verdict

Before Time is one of the most recent additions to Romance genre in Pakistan, a genre that receives the least attention from local English writers. The realistic depiction of lifestyle and relationships makes it an easy read and despite her age the author successfully carries the complex plot forward. The way Xunaira deals with cyber bullying, online relationship and coming at terms with difficult past is a feat in itself.

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Wrap Up

Before Time

  • 7/10
    Story Plot
  • 8.5/10
    Authenticity of the environment
  • 7.5/10
    Relevance & Complexity of themes in the novel
  • 7/10
    Character Development
  • 7.2/10
    Use of language (by author/by characters)

Array

  • Good narrative
  • Deals with complex issues
  • Realistic depiction of Islamabad life
  • Tackles cyber issues well

Array

  • Too skewed towards negative aspects of life
  • Some characters are very one-dimensional

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