When Saahil is ten years old, his sister Zahra is born but rather than a time of pure joy, it turns to tragedy. As father Amjad is left to raise his two children, the three of them become a tight unit, watched over with a loving eye by Amjad’s mother.
As the siblings grow, Saahil and his best friend, Ehsan, have big plans for the future and when they finish university, the world looks set to be their oyster. But once more tragedy strikes. Saahil sees no option to running away, leaving Zahra and Amjad worried and confused about his wellbeing.
For the next ten years, Zahra has to make her own way in the shadow of her brother’s absence, until one day she sees him once more. She’s desperate to mend her broken family but where has Saahil been all these years and is he ready to return home?
Sairish Hussain's debut is an impressively ambitious, forthright examination of a family's highs and lows. At times hard-hitting but always sensitive and tender, it doesn't shy away from the very depths of human experience and makes for an emotionally intense read.
Hearing Saahil's story is particularly affecting and testament to the author's determination to really probe the difficult moments of her characters' lives. Saahil and Zahra share centre stage, as the novel explores the ways in which their lives are shaped by both personal and social experiences, as well as against a changing backdrop of the new millennium and, in particular, its political, racial and technological milestones.
The novel is fairly long, at over 500 pages, so does require a bit of time to be put aside, and though by and large it moves along fairly well, I did feel that the narrative could have been tighter, particularly in the middle. But this is a novel about the passage of time, the development of characters over their lifetimes, and the author succeeds in creating a detailed but engaging history of two young British Muslims in their formative but defining years. I'm certainly looking forward to seeing more from this author on the back of this strong first offering. (JC)