Top positive review
33 people found this helpful
Wonderfully written novel about immigrant Pakistanis in the UK
on 9 September 2006
o, after reading the book all through the night, literally, (I went to bed at 6.30 a.m.!) I finally finished this masterpiece. It was a mixed feeling because the book was so beautiful, the characters so real, the experiences of the protagonists finding so many echoes in my own life (and I'm sure in that of most British Pakistanis whether first, second or third generation), the prose so ravishing that I didn't really want it to end.
Initially, I started this book last year but it is not an easy book to read, the writing is so detailed, descriptive, ornate and choc-a-bloc full of metaphor after metaphor, simile upon simile, that one is forced to take one's time. At that time last year, I was too mentally tired and busy to make the effort required. This time though, I put my other reading on hold and gave the book my undivided attention. I'm glad I did! The language of the book is so luscious, so beautiful, that for afficianados of prose style it alone is sufficient reason to read it. If we then add to it an interesting, realistic, so-contemporary-relevant, central plot, wonderfully realised main characters, and a great gift for putting images on the page, this book becomes a must-read. The central plot follows the lives of a family of Pakistanis in a Northern England town for a year after the main protagonist's brother and his lover are murdered by the girl's brothers out of 'honour'. The two main characters around whom the novel revolves are Shamas, a libertine, cultural-only Muslim, secretly a Communist, and his deeply pious, conservative, wife, Kaukab, the matriarch and daughter of a cleric.
Aslam has really succeeded in portraying the lives, dreams, and fears of immigrant Pakistanis in the UK. That he does it with magical prose is icing on the cake.
However, no book is perfect, and this one has a couple of tiny flaws which I noticed. One is that the writer's Islamophobia is too obvious and visible. This makes the book at times have the feel of polemic
which detracts somewhat from the points he is trying to make (especially when he makes some unfair generalisations about fiqh). The other slight criticism is that, at times, he overdoes the ornate language piling metaphor upon metaphor in his vivid descriptions of the flora and fauna of England. These two minor quibbles aside, it is, without doubt, the best-written novel I've ever read by an Asian writer and propels him instantly into the top tier of prose stylists next to the Nabokovs, Joyces, Burgesses, and Henry Millers of the world.
A wonderfully written novel and work of social commentary.