Winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize
"This novel, barely 200 pages long, is impossible to pin down or categorize. It’s about mothers and daughters, nation and exile, and the way forward with hope and pain. It is a masterpiece."—Tayari Jones, "My culture fix," The Times (UK)
“The arrival, in translation, of a Swedish-Iranian novelist is a welcome chance to cross the bridge into another version of Scandinavia…’What We Owe’, the second novel by Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde, an economist and social entrepreneur, is above all a family story. It knots the experiences of three generations of women into a taut and moving account of grief, a legacy handed down from mother to daughter…[and] refuses sentimental consolations…Terse, urgent prose—ably channelled by Elizabeth Clark Wessel, the translator—gives pace and heft to a novel of contagious trauma.”—The Economist
“Life is juxtaposed with death, resistance and revolution and rebirth are woven throughout the pages, and what it means to be a wife, daughter, sister, mother, and woman are unflinchingly examined in this book. This book is a powerhouse.” —Book Riot
“A haunting and emotional tale of survival, of what it means to be a refugee.” —The Literary Review
"Spare and devastating...Translated—gorgeously and simply—by Wessel, Nahid's sentences are short and thrillingly brutal, and the result is exhilarating. Hashemzadeh Bonde, unafraid of ugliness and seemingly unconcerned with likability, has produced a startling meditation on death, national identity, and motherhood. Always arresting, never sentimental; gut-wrenching, though not without hope."
—Kirkus Reviews, STARRED
"A book I devoured in one sitting. The voice is fierce and direct and unapologetic . . . One of the best books I’ve read about the psychological horror of being from post-revolutionary Iran. In this age of continuing dehumanization of Iranians in America, this book is a critical read for us all . . . Gorgeous and vital, this story will haunt its readers."
—Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi, for The Rumpus
"I read this ferocious novel in one sitting, enthralled by the rage of its narrator. Nahid confronts her own suffering with dark humor and noisy honesty, while taking aim at a patriarchal tradition that expects her to be silent."
—Leni Zumas, author of Red Clocks
"What We Owe is not only a riveting chronicle of immigration and loss but an unsparing interrogation of history itself, both personal and political. For the dying 50-year-old Nahid, her past in revolutionary Iran and her exiled present in Sweden collide into an ongoing, at times unendurable battle for now. By turns brutal, regretful, heartbreaking, and cautiously hopeful, this novel is an instant classic."
—Cristina García, author of Here in Berlin
"The unusually distilled voice of this potent novel is urgently, unforgettably true. It hit me right in the gut and left me bereft in the most beautiful way."
—Elisa Albert, author of After Birth
"Here is an extraordinary story of exile, dislocation, and the emotional minefields between mothers and daughters; a story of love, guilt and dreams for a better future, vibrating with both sorrow and an unquenchable joie de vivre
. With its startling honesty, dark wit, and irresistible momentum, What We Owe
introduces a fierce and necessary new voice in international fiction."
—Dayton Literary Peace Prize Finalist Citation
Swedish Praise for WHAT WE OWE:
“Crystal clear storytelling…Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde’s style may be economical with short staccato sentences—often no longer than five or six words—but it contains both an eye for details and, in a remarkable way, beautiful song. This song, in both Nahid’s story and in Hashemzadeh Bonde’s way of writing it, is central. What We Owe is something very unusual: both emotional and precise, and Nahid’s painful honestly, grief, joy, love, and fury, so evocative. The kind of novel that becomes a primer for life, one that is important to read before it is too late.”—Dagens Nyheter (Sweden)
“While navigating themes like illness and impending death that are rife with the potential of misstep, [Hashemzadeh Bonde] succeeds in creating a completely unsentimental story and is faithful to Nahid’s voice to such a degree that I forgot that there was a writer behind it. I got to know a person so deeply, in a way I have not before, and catch myself wanting to agree with Nahid. To say the world ought to have treated her better, that life ought to have been better. But I have gotten to know her so well that I also know that she would push my embrace away with a sneer. No matter, Nahid is indispensable to Swedish literature’s cast of characters, and I am deeply grateful that Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde has given her to us.”—Expressen
“What’s most impressive about this novel is Hashemzadeh Bonde’s ability to portray tensions on different levels, and how they are all connected to each other. It is the complicated relationship between Nahid and her daughter—of the same blood but with so very different social experiences. It is the individual against structure—illustrated by Nahid’s memory of her sister Maryam in Iran: ‘beautiful, proud, strong. Everything a woman can’t be, not even in Sweden, without getting shit for it.’ And it’s a struggle and achievement against coincidence—or structure, again. What We Owe is a page-turner that raises existentially universal issues while at the same time contributing additional vital pieces to the jigsaw puzzle that is the world and Sweden of today.”—Kulturnytt, Sveriges Radio
“The style is effortless and matter-of-fact, and the author has a way of giving each sentence heat and weight…Literature has a habit of simplifying lives to ‘stories’. In many such stories I’ve read, dying people are full of gratitude over the years and experiences they’ve been given here on earth. Nahid is not grateful. She is full of bitterness and rage. Justified rage, I think, against Khomeini and the Islamic dictatorship in Iran, against her father’s illness and her own, against the husband she loved but who hit and kicked her when she wasn’t being submissive enough. Rage and bitterness are often considered harmful and consuming, especially to women. Nahid draws her strength from her rage. She burns. Until the very last breath.”—Aftonbladet
“Hashemzadeh Bonde succeeds extremely well in capturing the nuances in the emotional mixture of anger, clarity, darkness, and grief that is implacability, and a large part of the telling lies in the style. Short, explosive sentences reveal a character who neither has time nor can afford anything but telling the truth.”—Göteborgs-Posten
“A breathtaking journey through Iran of the past and