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An uneven road
on 20 July 2009
I came to this novel with high hopes, being interested in the varieties of contemporary Islam, but overall was somewhat disappointed, although the author clearly has talent.
It narrates the spiritual journey of the central character, Sami, to find some identity and reconciliation between his Islamic ancestry and the militantly secularist outlook of his father. On the way, we learn of the stories of older members of his family, and hear debates on Islamic philosophy, mostly through the mouth of Sami's wife Muntaha: these were often moving and engaging. The main problem I had was with the central character. It need not have mattered that he was so utterly self-centred, charmless and immature (a 31 year old eternal student indulged first by his dead father, and then by his postgraduate institution - something highly unconvincing, knowing today's universities!), but he was also so BORING, lacking any interests or resources other than drink and drugs. I hastened through the pages in his company. Conversely, his wife Muntaba, seemed like a male fantasy - endlessly beautiful, reasonable, loving. Perhaps this book should be read as an allegory, not a realist work with convincing characters - but in that case the secularist mouthpiece should have been a substantial figure, not this overgrown child.
Having said this, the writing is lucid, and the author can both create good comic scenes (such as the arguments between Sami and Muntaha, or the funeral wake)and expound ideas. He will no doubt do better in future, but this is not yet a satisfactory whole.