August has proved to be a bit of a juggling act. It’s the final month of #20booksofsummer but i got side tracked by #WomeninTranslation month and the arrival of some library reservations. I’ve read some cracking novels this month but also abandoned four.
What I just finished reading
We Are All Birds Of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan is an ambitious debut novel that tackles many issues: racism, heritage, legacy, family expectations. Elements of the plot owe a lot to the author’s own story. She, like the central figure of Sameer is the child of parents who immigrated to Britain, became a corporate lawyer and was offered a posting to Singapore. But there are enough divergences from Zayan’s life to avoid this being too heavily autobiographical.
Sameer is a rising star in work and lives in an expensive flat in central London. But that doesn’t satisfy his parents who want him to return home, join the family grocery business and settle down with a nice girl from a good Muslim family. That’s not in Sameer’s game plan but the disagreement with his family pushes him to question his identity and his family’s history as Indian immigrants into Uganda.
The latter is told in fragments through letters written by Sameer’s grandfather which reveal the effects of political unrest in Uganda and intolerance towards the country’s Asian population.
The first part of the narrative is a little heavy handed in its depiction of racial issues and family conflict but it was well worth sticking with the novel because the Ugandan thread is far more nuanced.
What I’m reading now
I have two books on the go at the moment, both written by Indian born female authors.
A Burning by Megha Majumdar became a New York Times best-seller when released in America last year. It’s easy to see why this tale of “justice”, poverty and aspiration has been so well received. It’s a thought-provoking tale of a young Muslim woman accused of helping terrorists attack a train in Kolkata. Two people who know her initially speak up on her behalf, the only people willing to suggest she is innocent. But when push comes to shove will they risk their burgeoning careers to speak up for a woman whom the media, police and ordinary citizens vilify?
Sunlight On A Broken Column by Attia Hossain takes place in 1930s Lucknow at a time of growing tension and animosity towards British rule. Hossain’s main character is the orphaned daughter of a rich Muslim family. Laila lives within a strictly orthodox multi-generational house until her grandfather’s death when she goes to live with her more liberal minded uncle. Details of the household regime are interesting but I’m confused by all the different characters and their relationships.
What I’ll read next
I suspect I’m not going to be able to fit in another book from my #20booksofsummer list before the month comes to an end. I’ll get around to the remaining titles at some point though not likely to be this year. So for now I’m ‘free’ to pick and choose at random.
Vying for attention are The Magician by Colm Toibin, a fictional portrait of the complex life of the German novelist Thomas Mann and A Passage North by the Sri Lankan author Anuk Arudpragasam which is the only Booker Prize 2021 longlisted title I’m likely to get around to reading before the shortlist announcement on September 14. But then there’s Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson about which I’ve heard good things.
As always there is too much choice.
What are your reading plans for the next few weeks? If you’ve read any of the books on my “reading next” list you can help me make a decision.