Rosie Dastgir’s debut novel begins promisingly. Harris Anwar, a Pakistani immigrant in Britain, finds himself with a tidy divorce settlement after a failed marriage to a British woman. Harris (the name he adopted) finds himself navigating life afresh. “Holing up in a northern town ghetto", Harris buys a convenience store and depends upon the kindness and home-cooking of his distant Pakistani relatives to get by. He works upon his fraught relationship with daughter Alia, who is in medical school in London. There is also a favourite nephew, Rashid, fresh off the boat, whose assimilation into British life Harris is overseeing. To top it all, there is the prospect of a “potential bride”. Dr Farrah is a recent widow “with an impressive CV”. He seems to be all set for an interesting second innings.
As the narrative unfolds, we are presented with a smorgasbord of characters and situations. From scheming imams and English boyfriends with hipster parents to convenience store politics and richly described sections in Lahore, the tale packs it all in. And therein lies the problem. The characters and scenes are not held together by a narrative spine. The small fortune of the title, which should have propelled the story, is dismissed in the first act.
Where the book comes alive is in its scenes of British immigrant life. Be it in describing Harris’s drive to London along the M1 in his beat-up Citreon (with a packed curry lunch) or the many humanscale dramas at Heathrow’s arrival hall, these vignettes are described with warmth and richly felt depth. Dastgir has an eye for detail, an ear for nuance and displays a screenwriters' ease in shifting scenarios. If only the story was more compelling.
By Prashant Rao on April 27 2012 4.30am