By Manasi Subramaniam
What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape comes at a time when we have just begun to talk – actually talk – about rape. There is a great danger in referring to such a book as ‘timely’. Not only does that seem opportunistic, it also trivializes and oversimplifies sexual violence entirely. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that this book could have been published at any point in time since the dawn of civilization (or at least since the invention of the printing press) and it would have been just as timely and relevant. If the #MeToo discourse has taught us anything, it is this: violence affects all of us, and we need to be able to talk about it.
And yet, if I’m being honest, I’ll admit that I am terrified of robbing the debate of nuance by anything that I myself say. If I have enjoyed any clarity of thought on any subject in the world, it has always been through my reading. And working in publishing has offered me the good fortune of devising and disseminating the wisdom of others in the medium I have the most respect for. All of which is really a rather roundabout way of saying that this is a book I published because it was a book I wanted to read.
And so it was that I asked Sohaila Abdulali to write this book. She is a survivor herself, and she is thoughtful and brave and wise. These were the things I knew she would transfer into her book. And of course she did. But she did one more thing – a thing that I never expected. She made this book funny. Given the difficult subject it deals with – not to mention some of the details it contains – Sohaila did something extraordinary by keeping the tone light (but never unserious) and open (but never apologetic). It is the truly unique strength of this book that one comes away from it feeling empowered rather than broken.
Which is not to say that she does not have rage. She does. But she coolly channels all of it in this book with absolute precision. And the thing about her openly expressed fury is its rawness and its power and its capacity to encompass aggression and compassion. Page after page, I marvelled all the things that this book was doing, all the ways in which it was helping me structure my incoherent anger and helplessness.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape is a book that injects sensitivity, empathy and candour into the conversation surrounding sexual violence. It is entirely my privilege to have been a part of its making.
Writing from the viewpoint of a survivor, writer, counsellor and activist, and drawing on three decades of grappling with the issue personally and professionally and her work with hundreds of survivors, Sohaila Abdulali, in her book What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape looks at what we-women, men, politicians, teachers, writers, sex workers, feminists, sages, mansplainers, victims and families-think about rape and what we say.