It’s the sixth book in my 20BooksofSummer! I’m still reading “Black and British” but it’s a big one and also not always happy reading or easy to hold, so it doesn’t come to meal times with me. This one came to me in July 2020 as part of the rest of my book token splurge for last year (it got complicated) and I note that it arrived along with “Brit(ish)”, which I will be reading this month, and “Trans Britain” and “Mother Country” which I have actually read already!

So I’m only a little behind where I hoped to be now. I have a NetGalley June read to review on Thursday and am currently reading my first Anne Tyler for the month alongside “Black and British”. Not sure what’s next!

I hope everyone else who is doing 20 Books of Summer/Winter is having fun with their books! How are you doing?

Nadiya Hussain – “Finding my Voice: A Memoir”

(20 July 2020)

So, what prompted me to write this book? Well, there are girls out there who are quiet, just like I used to be. Who are allowing their lives to be steered in the hope that one day they might find their happy and, with that, their voice. Who are growing up being told ‘it’s not appropriate’, ‘no you can’t’, ‘it’s not the done thing’. With this book I want to show that, actually, who cares if it’s not appropriate, you can and it is the done thing! (p. xii)

Somehow between reading that this book didn’t include anything about Bake Off (and it really doesn’t: the only mentions are when her husband encourages her to go for the show and a bit about Tamal, who she made friends with) and reading it, I’d got it into my head that it wasn’t even a memoir, but some kind of self-help book. But it is a very open and honest memoir, organised into chapters around the roles Nadiya has had in her life: daughter, sister, granddaughter, daughter-in-law, mother, wife, earner, username and finally woman. So it’s basically a chronological journey through her life, taking on each role and concentrating on the people who are close to her in that role.

Is is very unguarded, “unflinchingly honest” as it says in the blurbs in the front. It’s certainly that. There’s lots on the feelings she has about her family and the difficulties she experienced being a daughter-in-law, though she’s always respectful of all her family members and careful not to offend.

I was a bit surprised that, although she mentions her panic disorder a few times and especially around not having told her husband about it before they married, it’s not a strong theme in the book and there’s not much about how she’s overcome it (or, if she hasn’t, how it’s impacted her life). It’s obviously her book to write as she wishes, but I would have liked to see more of that.

She includes a recipe at the end of each chapter and these are nicely inclusive – of a sweet treat called Handesh that has been the undoing of many a daughter-in-law, she says, “So for anyone getting married, vying to impress, these are for you. They are for you if you want to show up your very Bengali mother. They are also for you if you like fried sweet stuff with a cup of tea” (p. 166). On this note, she doesn’t talk a lot about her experiences of racism but they are there, in the cultural disconnects when to her having five siblings is not much, but shocks when she is talking to White people, etc., and we read with dismay her experience being told to do an essay for English about a character in a book she identifies with when she can’t find one that matches her (presumably why she’s written several books for adults and children).

Other than that, it’s frank, frequently funny, open about where she regrets things in her life, fiercely loving of her family and a memorable read. I was surprised about how open and often angry she is (good for her) and there’s a really shockingly visceral scene of an attempted and nearly achieved sexual attack in the final chapter which did actually genuinely shock me.

I enjoyed this book and I think it would be a great way to sneak some powerful reading for the girls and women she aims it to help, as the attractive cover and book description don’t prepare you for the honesty and sharing within.

This was book number 6 in my 20 Books of Summer 2021!