This lovely novel was written by Nadiya Hussain’s ghostwriter, who has also written two previous books under her own name. The blurb talking of a man labouring under a deathbed request to build a mosque in an English village, and indeed the cover image, appealed when I was sent details via NetGalley and I immediately requested it. I was not disappointed, and this book will interest anyone who enjoys reading culture clash (or mix!) books and those exploring faith and duty.

Ayisha Malik – “This Green and Pleasant Land”

(12 March 2019; published 13 June 2019)

Bilal and Mariam moved from Birmingham to a quintessentially English village eight years ago and he’s on the parish council while she freelances and writes articles for the local paper. Then “Bill”‘s mum dies, and her dying wish is for him to reconnect to Islam and particularly to build a mosque in the village (she doesn’t ask him to dig a grave in his back garden and give lying in it a whirl, as she did a while back, but he picks up that idea and runs with it). He pushes back against the idea for a bit then has a bit of a religious epiphany, has a chat with the lovely local vicar, and starts to look into what to do.

Soon the village is divided, although along strangely fractured lines in places: will the support of the liberal vicar and their neighbour Margaret (in whom, with her over-enthusiasm for learning about other cultures and beam when she manages to greet a Muslim in Arabic, I rather uncomfortably saw myself), be enough to see them through? Will Aunty Khala, with her English learning and salwar kameez stuffed into wellies and Bilal’s best mate Vaseem, with his call-to-prayer app, startle the sleepy village into tolerance or help build more barricades?

There’s a lot in here about language and identity – Bilal is “just not myself in Punjabi” but sees Selly Oak through a lens of Muslim life (as I know Selly Oak really well, this was a fascinating passage for me, seeing it through someone’s very different eyes) and Khala and her natural enemy reach a truce in mutual incomprehension.

I loved the layers of characters in the village, the visiting Aunties, the touching relationship between Haaris and his great-aunt and Mariam’s pull between self-help videos and her over-religious ex-husband and Bilal’s gentle character. I especially loved the sneaky Goodness Gracious Me reference, which had me hooting out loud with laughter! A great read with a lot of depth but still entertaining and even silly at times (in a good way).

Thank you to publisher Bonnier Zaffre for making this book available to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review.