I came to this novel by a happy accident - I expected it to be Guardian-reader social realism, which is something I'd normally avoid. But it isn't that at all. It's a psychological study of - arguably - any young man struggling to find meaning and a place in the world. I don't agree with other reviewers who say the book needs more explanation of Imtiaz's motivation, of his conversion to radical Islam, because there was no conversion. To me, that's the whole, sad point. Imtiaz is a man adrift, sinking between two worlds, and if you asked him what he was dying for, he wouldn't be able to say with any real conviction.
What made this novel for me was the compassion at its heart. As one young man, Faisal, commits suicide, there's no glory or glamour, just the awful aftermath of the bomb, its effect on both the American 'enemy' and the local population and Imtiaz's sense of horror and personal loss.
And the quality of the prose is excellent. There's no question that Mr Sahota is an immensely talented author - for a first-time novelist, his use of imagery is extraordinary, and the structure of the novel with its skillfully revealed backstory works brilliantly. The depiction of Imtiaz's failing relationship and his impotence as his wife slips away is heartbreaking, and the reprise back to happier times at the novel's conclusion is masterful.
Sunjeev Sahota is a rarity, a writer who can really WRITE. I for one very much look forward to seeing what he does next.
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