The Pact We Made

by Layla AlAmmar

Modern and Contemporary Fiction Relationship Stories Books with reviews by our Reader Review Panel Family Drama Literary Fiction

LoveReading Expert Review of The Pact We Made

A taut, affecting exploration of a Kuwaiti woman’s struggle to forge her own identity and find freedom amidst crippling pressures to conform.

As eight-year-old girls, three friends made a marriage pact. Now approaching thirty, Dahlia is the only one who remains unmarried and the pressure to conform, to accept a husband, is crippling. Dahlia is desperate to be “unfettered by customs and bonds and the burden of ancestry”, and it’s clear to her that life is much easier for young boys who “would have freedoms my sister and I never contemplated...the freedom to live their lives without constant scrutiny...the freedom to not marry without shame or guilt.” While Dahlia has conformed to her parents’ idea of a suitable career, she remains steadfast in her refusal to marry a man she does not love, and still harbours a desire to pursue her artistic talents, while battling familial and peer pressure, while haunted by the abuse inflicted on her by a family friend.

Dahlia’s intimate, introspective narrative evokes a sense of constriction and conflict with remarkable potency, and readers will applaud her courage and acts of defiance. Thought-provoking, long-lingering and simmering with the strength of the human spirit, this is a powerfully assured debut.

Joanne Owen

The Pact We Made Synopsis

Featured on BBC Radio 4's Open Book * Featured on BBC Radio 3's Free Thinking * An ELLE Magazine cultural pick * Reviewed in the Observer 'Beautifully written' Joanna Cannon 'Fascinating ... full of personality' Guardian 'Brilliant ... What a debut' Pandora Sykes 'How could I explain to her that nothing in my life felt real? That in a country like Kuwait, where everyone knew everything about each other, the most monumental thing to ever happen to me was buried and covered over? For the sake of my reputation, my future, my sister's and cousins; the family honor sat on my little shoulders, so no-one could ever know.' Dahlia has two lives. In one, she is a young woman with a good job, great friends and a busy social life. In the other, she is an unmarried daughter living at home, struggling with a burgeoning anxiety disorder and a deeply buried secret: a violent betrayal too shameful to speak of. With her thirtieth birthday fast-approaching, pressure from her mother to accept a marriage proposal begins to strain the family. As her two lives start to collide and fracture, all Dahlia can think of is escape: something that seems impossible when she can't even leave the country without her father's consent. But what if Dahlia does have a choice? What if all she needs is the courage to make it? Set in contemporary Kuwait, The Pact We Made is a deeply affecting and timely debut about family, secrets and one woman's search for a different life.

About This Edition

ISBN: 9780008284480
Publication date: 6th February 2020
Author: Layla AlAmmar
Publisher: The Borough Press an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
Format: Paperback
Pagination: 288 pages
Primary Genre Modern and Contemporary Fiction
Other Genres:
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The Pact We Made Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title.

A superb modern day story that is sure to please the reader.

This is a superb novel, in fact perhaps it mirrors someone's life somewhere where the choice has to be decided between doing your own think and making your own way in the world whilst being free to do so versus following your family tradition of arranging your life and future for you.

Dahlia is confronted with both choices and receives much well intended from both sides advising her what to do and she herself must make the choice, not an easy one but one that must be done all the same, and soon!

Set in the background of Kuwait, where the norm is to follow family trends, the story of Dalia is beautifully written of the problems and challenges that she must face and of solving the surmountable family problems that try to tie her to her roots.

A truly magnificent read, and one that should be added to your Booklist and the reader will not be disappointed with this novel.

Catherine Bryce

A really memorable story, set in an interesting environment, with serious issues at its heart.

Set in modern-day Kuwait, this story features Dahlia and her two friends, young women striving to live modern lives, while still respecting the restrictive culture still prevailing for women in that Arab country. A ‘suitable’ marriage, often arranged by their families is the pinnacle of their ambition as they grow up. But this doesn’t happen for Dahlia. At the beginning of this book, I thought it was going to be a fairly light read, possibly frivolous, concentrating on Dahlia’s efforts to find a husband, but I was very wrong. As the story progresses it becomes deeper and darker as you realise that Dahlia is actually struggling with mental health issues, stemming from a traumatic experience in her early teens. She is ultimately forced to make a life-changing decision about her future. This is really a ‘book of our time’ which deals with a couple of serious issues, within the framework of a novel set in an interesting environment. I found it a page-turner.

Doreen McKeown

A terrific story with a strong 30 something female character living in Kuwait with her family who despairs for her future.

This is a beautifully written story about one young woman in her thirties living in present-day Kuwait. The story goes back and forth in time giving us glimpses of Dahlia’s life, through these snippets of her life we see darker parts of her life such as self-harm and terror. I found the dynamic of her family intriguing, the closeness to the point of suffocation sometimes, and the pressure to have done certain things by a certain age, the very audible thoughts from others that if you have not reached these life goals by a certain age what will happen. A fascinating read!

Edel Waugh

An eye opening view on the struggles of a Kuwaiti woman destined for marriage.

The Pact We Made follows the lives of three girls living in Kuwait. Two of the girls follow the customs and traditions that their families require but the third who has suffered a terrible childhood trauma fights against her family. Dahlia is a full-time financier, part-time artist with undiscovered talent and she feels the need to escape from the fetters of life in Kuwait. She must make a choice – to leave the country or follow the wishes of her family.
At first, I found the novel rather slow going. The lives of the three girls are mapped out with rituals and family, but as we get to know Dahlia and her internal struggles, the book moves on at a quicker pace. The book is well written, and we discover how the worries and concerns of the family are an overriding factor in the girls’ lives, how respect and reputation can take a toll on individuals. Layla Alammar weaves the novel neatly to uncover the trauma Dahlia experienced and how she and her family dealt with it. Ultimately the book is about hope for the future but at what price?

Heather Byrne

A struggle for independence pitted against society, this novel evokes an often oppressive atmosphere that is unforgettable.

Set in Kuwait, The Pact We Made tells the story of Dahlia, a young woman approaching her 30s who lives with her parents. Well-written and easy to read, the novel examines the expectations of a society on women and particularly on this independent, sensitive woman. As the plot progresses, we are drawn into a world of divided loyalties, dark secrets and ultimately of a courageous struggle of an individual against societal norms.

Tina Tse

A real insight into the struggles and challenges of young women living in Kuwait today.

This is a fascinating book which looks at the lives of young women in Kuwait today. Dahlia lives a typical 'Western'lifestyle with her friends; working in the finance industry during the day and socialising at night. Approaching the age of 30 and still living with her parents, she is under immense pressure to accept one of the many men her mother lines up for her as potential husbands so that she can get married and start a family. Tensions within the family are created when Dahlia tries to make her own decisions about her future while also trying to come to terms with life changing events from her past.

Emma Barton

A compelling and topical read detailing the struggle of minority groups, resulting in a real tour de force.

This book is set in a culture and environment where women are seen as mere objects. The reader will experience a raft of emotions going through this book; anger, frustration, jubilation and relief. It is a compelling and topical read detailing the struggle of minority groups, resulting in a real tour de force.

Peter Mynehan

The pact we made is as story of an almost 30 year old woman Dahlia who is stuck between two worlds, that of being a married woman and doing what is expected of her in the society she lives in and the world she wishes she could be in, free from expectation and the pressures that her culture places on her an unmarried woman.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It's full of a culture that I know nothing about, it was easy to read and a encapsulating story.

The pact we made is as story of an almost 30 year old woman Dahlia who is stuck between two worlds, that of being a married woman and doing what is expected of her in the society she lives in and the world she wishes she could be in, free from expectation and the pressures that her culture places on her an unmarried woman.

This story was both poignant and powerful.


Thought provoking and fascinating, this story describes Dahlia’s life as an unmarried woman in Kuwait. It is well worth reading.

The Pact We Made is a thoughtful and insightful book about the life of a woman in Kuwait as she approaches her thirtieth birthday. Dahlia’s life is restricted and dominated by her mother’s never-ending quest to find her a husband. I was fascinated to learn that one of the male characters had a similar horror to Dahlia of the arranged marriage system, as his mother also was on a quest to find him a wife. Dahlia’s reluctance to choose a husband is linked to a traumatic event which happened to her as a teenager. This is a fascinating account of life in a very different society, in which a woman’s place is strictly defined and her choices are hugely limited. It is very readable and hard to put down – I stayed up far too late one night as I couldn’t bear to stop reading it.

Susan Wallace

An interesting read about a young woman growing up in Kuwait - a mix of cultures.

This is about a young woman approaching her 30s, unmarried, and living in Kuwait. It was fascinating to be taken into another world where things are expected of you by certain times of your life. Dahlia struggles with his mix - on one hand she seems to be a thoroughly modern woman and on the other hand she has to fit in with her culture. She also has a secret that haunts her and has never been dealt with honestly and openly by her family. This all contributes to make her what she is today.

An interesting read.

Alison Bisping

Layla Alammar provides an insightful look into a different culture where being single at 30 is frowned upon and the pressure from family to settle down is overwhelming... a great debut novel.

This took me a while to get in to, it’s a completely different culture to mine and at times I did get a little lost... that being said it was educational & insightful and once I got halfway through it started to pick up as the secrets of Dahlia's past that her family had brushed over, came to light & I couldn’t put it down.

A fascinating read about the pressures of life for a young Kuwaiti woman reaching her 30th birthday as she is unmarried and unlike her peers.

Lucy Hall

Layla AlAmmar Press Reviews

`So beautifully written and so important, and so cleverly crafted, it can't be a debut. But it is' Joanna Cannon

`A Kuwaiti #MeToo novel of muffled suffering and a bid for freedom- absorbing, brave and compelling' Leila Aboulela

`Truthful and courageous, radical and lyrical. I loved it' Hanan Al-Shaykh

`One of those books you ration so it doesn't end too soon, it's beautifully written and unbelievably powerful. I loved it' Katie Lowe, author of The Furies

`A timely and deeply affecting debut with a voice that needs to be heard, at a time when it matters most' Charlotte Philby, author of The Most Difficult Thing

Other editions of this book

ISBN: 9780008284480
Publication date: 06/02/2020
Format: Paperback

ISBN: 9780008284442
Publication date: 07/03/2019
Format: Hardback

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About Layla AlAmmar

Layla AlAmmar grew up in Kuwait, with an American mother and a Kuwaiti father. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh. Her work has appreaed in the Evening Standard, Quail Bell Magazine and Aesthetica Magazine, where she was a finalist for the Creative Writing Award 2015. She currently lives in Kuwait. The Pact We Made is her debut novel.

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