This is the third of the three novels that I agreed to look at for an author, and of the three, it’s the one I would have been least likely to come across if Tamim Sadikali hadn’t sent me a copy. It’s from a publisher I’d never head of before – Hansib – although when I looked it up I found that it’s been in business since 1970 as a magazine publisher, branching out into books in the ‘80s. It specialises in multicultural publishing and the complexities of multiculturalism are what’s at the heart of Sadikali’s novel
Aadam, Nazneen, Salman, Pasha and Imitaz are preparing for Eid ul-Fitr, the feast which celebrates the end of Ramadan. They’re all dreading it in some way – Aadam finds his strictly observant brother Salman difficult; his cousin Pasha rarely goes home and has just chucked his white girlfriend out while his other cousin Imitaz is deeply ashamed of his obsession with porn. Nazneen, Aadam’s wife, is all too well aware that she’s not the traditional Muslim wife his family might want her to be and Salman feels everyone else is far too Westernised. Pretty much your average family get together, then, but Dear Infidel is set in 2004: it’s a post-9/11 world and there’s a war in Iraq.
There’s a lot going on in Sadikali’s novel. Each of his five principal characters is struggling with their identity in one way or another. Aadam’s increasing anger at what he sees as an assault on his fellow Muslims in Iraq is aggravated by the casual racism he experiences at work. Nazneen is torn between her romantic experiences at university and the reawakening of her Muslim beliefs. Imitaz is suddenly aware of what he’s missed when he sees Salman’s family. Pasha has largely shrugged off his background but is beginning to understand that he’s alone at nearly forty. Salman is trying to bring up his children as good Muslims in a world which has many temptations. The crux of the novel is this struggle with identity – British, Pakistani, or both? – and how much harder it is to be British in a country where Muslims are now viewed with suspicion. These are hard issues to grapple with. It’s not a subtle novel – I longed for someone who wasn’t in the midst of a crisis – but it’s written from the heart. It gave me an insight into a world I know little of, making me think about what it might be like to be the object of suspicion and to not quite understand where you belong – and for that it was well worth reading.