Heart Tantrums and Brain Tumours

A Tale of Marriage, Misogyny and Muslim Feminism


When Aisha Sarwari left her childhood home in Uganda for America as a young woman, she set out to create her own identity and story. The daughter of Pakistani and Indian migrants, she had never lived in South Asia. Raised to be a ‘good Muslim girl’, she struggled to reconcile these cultural expectations with her desire for equality and acceptance.

After she met Yasser, a Pakistani law student, they returned to their ancestral country and married. Little did they know that a brain tumour would become an almost lethal third wheel in their relationship. The cancer gnawed at Yasser’s personality, provoking aggressive outbursts. The illness explained Yasser’s violence, Aisha told herself; but at what point did it become the excuse? She began to see their marriage within a bigger picture–of women’s place in an oppressive society, and of the tug between feminist principles and personal happiness.

Between Africa, the USA and Pakistan, this is a unique story of abuse and trauma, identity and belonging, misogyny and motherhood, patriarchy and power. With searing honesty and political passion, Heart Tantrums and Brain Tumours reveals one woman’s battle to redefine the rules–by fighting for, and sometimes with, the man she loved.


Aisha Sarwari is a public speaker, women's rights activist, co-founder of the NGO Women's Advancement Hub, and author of two books on feminism. Her commentary has appeared in The Economist, The Guardian and The Express Tribune; on NPR and the BBC World Service. Based in Islamabad, she tweets as @AishaFSarwari.

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