A dark romance filled with twists, turns, and tears
SOUL TRACING: Taboo is a fictional adult novel set in present-day East London. It is definitely not a book for the faint hearted or romcom devotees with a penchant for a fairy-tale love story. It is a controversial book filled with a plethora of underlying cultural and social issues, as well as religious taboos that affect many men and women around the world. From uncomfortable dark secrets inside the Catholic Church to misuse of Shariah law in the Pakistani culture, this story will absolutely tug at your heart strings and make you question the ideals and values of society.
The story starts with the POV of Dean Thynne-Edwards Walker. An angry young man with a hatred for religion due to his past; he was abandoned at a Catholic orphanage as an infant and has seen unspeakable abuse whilst growing up. Consequently, Dean blames the church for the horrors of his childhood.
His path crosses with Yasmin Khan, a devout Muslim from a strict Pakistani family and a polar opposite to Dean in faith but another individual who, like him, is lost and battling loneliness within her life. Yasmin’s character is one that will make you wonder who the woman behind the veil really is. She demonstrates how depression can clash with culture, and how being torn between two cultures can affect people who have parents from different countries.
Soul Tracing brings a light to the dark side of forbidden love and racism. It shows how women need to have the right to take ownership of their body, their sexuality, and their identity in a relatable and engaging way that encompasses themes of both romance and faith. We also incorporate other topics such as depression, loneliness, and cultural oppression. All of these are vital components of what make this book such a great read.
Soul Tracing is a story that needs to be told, and even if certain communities don’t want to hear it, it brings awareness to topics that won’t go away. The great thing about the story is that it doesn’t pull any punches. It is in your face with its views and thoughts, and it leaves you with no choice but to listen and come up with your own conclusion. Soul Tracing is more than a Muslim girl falling in love with a non-Muslim man; it is a voice for so many people of different ethnicities, and it brings us together with topics that affect everyone, beyond the barriers of skin colour and religion.
We highly recommend you have lots of tissues at the ready before you dive in! You are going to need them on the rollercoaster that is Dean and Yasmin’s story.
This book is a powerful campaign statement that we are extremely proud of.
We want all the Yasmins of the world to know that they are not alone and that they do have a voice. We hope that our book will encourage these young women to seek help and have the courage to escape their situation before it is too late.
Q & A with the authors.
Tell us a little about yourself.
We are Irsha Akbar and Ifraah Samatar. High school sweethearts (even though Irsha claims to have a fiancé). We hail from London. Irsha is a chocoholic (despite her skin saying it doesn’t agree), and Ifraah is in a committed, long-term relationship with pizza. We are joyful and cheesy humans who love world peace. Irsha is of Pakistani descent and has seen firsthand some of the injustices women face when false Islamic teachings are mixed with cultural obligations. Ifraah is a community activist, campaigner, and a teacher of tiny, epic humans.
What else can we tell you? Game of Thrones is our religion after Islam, and Harry Potter is our bible. J.K Rowling is our Lord and saviour. Music is our drug, Spotify is our dealer. #Nuffsaid
Who are our primary readers?
Our primary target reader is an average, open-minded adult human who is able to comprehend all the dark material in our story and come out alive.
How long did it take you to finish the book?
We’ve been telling the world it took us just over two years to write Soul Tracing, but three days ago, Facebook sent us a throwback in which we were talking about the early stages of the book in 2014! This is book one of a seven part series, so to all of our readers, expect book two in 2030!
How did you come up with the title?
Yasmin explains this beautifully in a court scene, but the title was the easy part. Soul Tracing refers to the art of looking beyond your initial judgement of someone’s character and identity based on their exterior. We see a person walking down the street covered in tattoos and piercings, and we assume we know what kind of person they are. We see a girl with large breasts, a short dress, and dyed hair, and we make an assumption that she must be a slag or tart. You see a man dressed sharply in a suit and assume he is clever and wealthy, but he could be a rapist on his way to court. You see a Muslim woman with a dark material covering her face and with her body hidden under mountain of layers…You make an assumption. But if we trace the image deeper and further beyond what we assume, and look closely at the soul behind the exterior by taking the time to get to know others on a human level, we learn a great deal more about their struggles and stories and connect with them based on truth, not assumption.
The taboo in the title refers to topics our human society will never talk openly about, such as the Muslim community when it comes to sex education and female sexuality. The darkness of the Catholic Church will also remain frowned upon and discussed only behind closed doors. But now that politicians and presidents are also being exposed, who is really the predator?
Which woman is oppressed? The obedient one being told to cover every inch of her body, or the one being told that true beauty is revealing her perfect, pouty lips, having the perfect breast lift, and paying huge amounts of money for perfect hair? She’s chasing perfection, but she is also being cat called and ridiculed by the very same society that told her she was free.
What was the hardest part of writing the book?
The hardest part about writing a book like Soul Tracing is the emotion of it all. We went to a dark place when writing about Dean’s past, and it broke us. Just as we started to heal, we wrote about Yasmin’s present, and the pain started all over again. Then we wrote about the double standards of sex, and we got so deep into our feminist warzone we actually screamed about how unfair life is.
Why did you choose the cover?
The cover of our book is beyond perfect. It was a collaborative effort by our wonderful designer, Robin, and us. The model hidden by the veil represents two women. Yasmin, the Muslim veiled character, and a symbol of all the other female characters that are also hidden in darkness, sometimes not by choice.
Did you do research?
The research stages where painful but insightful. Finding out the statistics for the number of girls who are killed in the name of saving the family honour was disturbing. The high level of abuse cases in orphanages was gut wrenching, as was speaking to the real-life survivors and victims of the themes in our book. It was emotional but pivotal in achieving a powerful story.
What was the editing process like?
In one word? Hell. We re-read and proofread everything a thousand times, but nothing was ever right. We understood the meaning of ‘it takes a village’. Two of us wrote this book, but it was only when our beta readers and our incredible editor joined us that things started to make sense. Our editor, Cat, was able to take the most rambling parts of the book and turn them into something readable! We have this inside joke about ‘ten minutes’, which explains just how insane our proof reading was… something that was supposed to take ten minutes to double check actually took us several hours. So yeah, the editing stage sucks, but not so much when you have a fairy editing mother who can bibbity bob your errors away.
Did you learn anything while writing it?
Throughout our journey of writing this novel, we have gained a deeper insight into the horrors of honour killings in Islam and abuse within the Catholic Church. We feel obligated to share this story, as we believe it will resonate with people of all faiths who may be going through the same issues as our protagonists, Yasmin and Dean.
Did you face any setbacks or hurdles throughout the process of writing and after?
It’s not really much of a hurdle, but we learnt that a large portion of the Muslim community is afraid of sex. We built a lot of hype around the launch of the book, and so many people where excited for its publication. What we didn’t expect was people assuming we had written a ‘Muslim book’, and assumptions were made by members of our community that thought, because we are Muslim, our book would be ‘halal’. So the idea that two girls who dress and look like us went on to write a book that opens with an explicit love scene was too much for a lot of people to handle.
What message do you want to say to readers?
The biggest message we want to share with our readers is… We hope you love Dean and Yasmin as much as we do. We hope you see real humans behind the descriptions of these fictional characters. We hope Dean encourages you to look from another angle at people who seem ‘angry’ and ‘cold’. You never know the pain that person is hiding.
Next time you see a Yasmin on the street or in the stores, we hope you look beyond the burkha or the face veil. That woman could be in a dark, lonely place, and if you reach out, you might just be the saviour that pulls her out before it’s too late.
Where can readers get a copy?
On Amazon, we have three versions available:
CLEAN version with toned down love scenes for our conservative readers:
The glorious full explicit version for the brave reader:
and the paperback which contains glossary of terms that translates some of the languages spoken in the book.
How do readers reach you?
We are on social media! Facebook: irshiffywritings17 Twitter: @Irshaandifraah
Or old fashioned email: Irshiffywritings@hotmail.com