Danville author's novel spotlights social struggles of women in Pakistan

'The Little Stepmother' follows 12-year-old adjusting after arranged marriage

Danville resident Lubna Jahangiri describes her recent novel, "The Little Stepmother: A Novel," as a story about triumph of the human spirit in Pakistan.

"The women of Pakistan, especially those from lower classes, unfortunately, do not have many social or legal rights," Jahangiri, an author and attorney, said in an interview this month. "Despite all the odds against them, they form the fabric of society."

"The Little Stepmother" is a fictionalized tale -- loosely based on a real-life story -- about a girl in Jahangiri's native Pakistan who is forced into an arranged marriage and sent away to live with her new family.

Prior to getting married, protagonist Jameela develops envy for the girl vacationing next door, whom she thinks has everything she doesn't -- nice clothes, books to read and a devoted father.

But when newlywed Jameela is sent to her new home far from her village, she sees it is the home of the same little girl she'd envied. She then realizes she is married to the girl's father and is now a second wife and stepmother -- at 12 years old.

The story that inspired the Jahangiri's novel was told to her by a woman who underwent similar hardships as a young girl and overcame them, the author said.

"This story amazed and inspired me and stayed with me for several years," she added.

Raised in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Jahangiri was born into a middle-class, highly educated family. Her father was a doctor but died when she was 9. Her mother, a college professor of English literature, raised her along with her two sisters as a single parent.

"Even though we had limited resources, my two sisters and I went to one of the top, private schools in Pakistan at Burn Hall," Jahangiri recalled.

After moving to the U.S., Jahangiri received her second master's degree from Santa Clara University and then earned a law degree from Golden Gate University in 2001.

Now living in Danville, she works as a partner at the law firm of Blackwell, Santaella and Jahangiri, where her focus is on business and real estate law. Jahangiri and her husband have two children.

When her second son was born in 1994, she took a year off from work. During that year, she wrote "The Little Stepmother" story in her native language, Urdu. It was published and won an award, she recalled.

Six years ago, Jahangiri decided she wanted to translate "The Little Stepmother" in English to bring the story to Western readers. After taking several years to complete, the English language version was released by Tate Publishing last August.

"Jameela and I come from very different backgrounds, even though we share the same geographic location. I led an easy life," Jahangiri said. "However, at some level, I feel that Jameela's struggle is my struggle. I can understand her fully even though I didn't experience her tough life."

The characters in this book are very raw, according to Jahangiri, who said she made no attempt at Westernizing the characters in the book.

"The culture, the language, the mannerisms of the characters in this book are so different from those of the target readers that I found it very difficult to express my characters' thoughts and feelings in their own words," she said.

What came more naturally while writing the book, she said, was describing the geography or the physical characteristics and events.

Jahangiri describes Jameela as brave, steadfast and adaptable, saying the character symbolizes the strong women of Pakistan.

"I am disappointed that these women are almost invisible, unappreciated and their stories go untold," she said. "My dream is to bring more such stories out to the West."


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