What a great and satisfying read this one was. Although I was ready to be cross at the “Muslim Bridget Jones” tag (having railed against the “Black Bridget Jones” description of “Queenie”), the author’s letter to her readers at the end of the book made it clear that’s exactly what she planned to write. And she did that very well, and more. I picked this one up after reading her more recent “This Green and Pleasant Land” via NetGalley (proof that getting free books via NetGalley does encourage purchases!). Quite excitingly, among the reviews from bloggers in the front of the book, there’s one from The Writes of Womxn, who is behind the #DiverseDecember hashtag I’ve been adding to a number of my reads this month. You can read her review here.

Ayisha Malik – “Sofia Khan is not Obliged”

(06 May 2020)

We have a year in Sofia Malik’s life, thirty and not yet married, her older sister very much so. As we meet her, she is a month out of breaking up with a boyfriend who expected her to get into a very much too-close-for-comfort living arrangement with his extended family, and is throwing herself into her work as a book publicist instead. She has a group of friends who are great and have her back and a group of White colleagues who mean well and don’t quite get her jokes – apart from Kate, who provides a lot of meaningful work friendship, and she can use them for material when she somehow falls into being commissioned to write a book about Muslim dating. As she can the attractive American guy she met in the supermarket and is ‘just good friends’ with. But obviously not the tattooed Irish next-door neighbour who everyone assumes is a racist.

I loved so much about this book. Sofia’s family are hilarious and there are the scenes you expect from a cliched book or programme about Muslim women’s lives, like meet and greets with suitable boys, visits from overseas uncles and aunties with you under the microscope, but always with a twist and an authenticity, and a refusal to spell everything out for a reader outside the culture being discussed (so I had to look a few things up: so what). I also absolutely loved that Sofia is deeply religious. She prays five times a day, dresses modestly and wears a headscarf even when no one else in her family does and her mum’s always nagging her to take it off. I just love that, it’s not something I’ve really seen in many other novels and it’s so interesting and allows all sort of ideas to be considered.

The book is full of nuance. One boss indulges in well-meaning microaggressions; a maintenance worker swiftly and silently adjusts the window on the prayer room. Sofia and her family experience racism, but then also indulge in some casual racism and assumptions themselves. When she fights back against a street harrasser, it’s a mixture of people who support her and help her sort things out.

So a really good read, a feel-good novel which doesn’t shy away from addressing issues and has real depth to it.

I did buy the sequel but just didn’t fancy reading it. Also, do NOT buy the sequel and look at the blurb or reviews as the spoilers are there!