8 July 2014
One of the benefits of my website is that it makes it very easy for strangers to contact me. In April I received an email from a PR agency. They were promoting this new book and asked if I would commit to writing a review if they sent me a copy. I explained that I was unable to give such a commitment due to the pressure of my other obligations.
A little while later they decided to send me a copy anyway in the hope that I might find it interesting. While I had not given any commitment, I decided to read about 10 pages to consider whether it was worth reading any more.
The book passed the most basic test in that having started to read it, I wanted to finish it. It is quite short, 197 pages, and I finished it in a few days at the rate of one hour per day which was all the time that I could devote to it.
This is the first novel by Tamim Sadikali. I have not come across him before but the cover states that he was born in Sidcup Kent, read mathematics at Warwick University and went into the computer software industry. From the subject matter, and the photograph on the back cover, he is obviously of Pakistani descent. Accordingly we have a common background as well as having read the same subject at university. Indeed, although my memory is rusty, I recall that Warwick University was one of my six choices when I was applying to university since in the 1960s they had a very famous topologist, Professor Zeeman.
The book is set around an Eid ul Fitr meal in London in 2004, after 9/11 and the Madrid bombings, but before the London bombings of 7/7. A family comes together for this meal, comprising:
One of the minor irritants was the absence of a family tree diagram. Especially in the early stages the book has very little continuity, with many rapid cuts between scenes featuring the different participants before they arrive for the meal, and at first I found it very difficult remembering how people were related.
The book explores the identity issues of the protagonists, and how they relate to their religion and to wider British society. As the blurb on the back cover says:
Two families reunite for a feast on Eid ul-Fitr, the day Muslims celebrate the end of the month of fasting. And boys who grew up together will meet again, as men. As the big day approaches two of the men go to the mosque, one leaves his girlfriend and another watches porn. Nevertheless, they arrive intent on embracing the day. Old enmities are put aside, as they take tentative steps towards each other.
This is a story about love, hate, longing and sexual dysfunction, all sifted through the war on terror. And how we drift from one another, leaving every man stranded across a wasteland of atrophied connections. And so we witness the realities of a post-9/11 world filter down, touch individual lives, combine with some internal tension, and finally spill over.
I will avoid giving any other details about the book to avoid spoiling it for readers.
Perhaps because I grew up many decades before Islam became controversial in the UK starting with the Salman Rushdie affair, I never had the kind of identity issues which plague the characters in the book. I have always known who I am and what aspects of my identity I regard as important. While I grew up aware of racism in British society, I simply regarded this as something to be dealt with and overcome, and in the longer run to be expunged from our country.
However, I have known other people with identity issues and could relate to the angst felt by some of the characters in this book.
I believe that readers, both white British and of Pakistani origin, will find the book interesting, as indeed did I since I finished it. However the author needs to develop his writing skill further since the characters are not well fleshed out and in many ways are one-dimensional. The early part of the book also fails to flow due to excessive cutting between the scenes.