Sophia Khan is obviously going to be a writer to watch. She is an excellent storyteller. Like the Ancient Mariner, she grasps your arm and you are transfixed. When you finish this book, you will certainly be “a wiser and a sadder man”. [With apologies, but it is not my fault that Coleridge did not use a gender neutral word.] And it really is that kind of tale, of lives ruined, of deep hurt, of the impossibility of a life that matches our dreams. And yet, at the end, we are offered a glimmer of hope, a suggestion that we can come through, that we will survive.
This is a tale that spans continents – from New York State via London and Ireland to Pakistan. It is obviously a tale that spans cultures, with a slight reference to Catholic guilt and a much larger description of the exuberance of a Pakistani wedding. It is a tale of the different kinds of love. The heart of the story is the kind of love that matches the drama and passion of Carmen and Don Jose. There is the bitterness of a Karenin, confronted with unfaithfulness. There is the quiet acceptance of a Linton who realises that his wife will never love him as he wishes..And, of course, there are the children who are both the victims and the unwilling protagonists of the tale, much like The Go-Between.
So how do I tell you what the book is about? That is, how do I do it without spoiling the plot for you? This is my attempt.
It is a story of a lifelong grand passion, of the love between Yasmeen and Ahmed, who are always together in their hearts, even if they are held apart by circumstances and, most of all, by their own stupidity. This is also the story of James and Mehrunissa, who marry Yasmeen and Ahmed. It is also the story of Irenie, the daughter of Yasmeen and James, and Firdaus, the son of Ahmed and Mehrunissa. The story cam best be described as “Wuthering Heights” set in the 21st century, with a dash of “Anna Karenina”. The comparisons are so many that I have gone back to read Emily Bronte’s wonderful romantic novel, and “Yasmeen” stands the comparison. It is truly that good a story.
The difference is that there is no Mr Lockwood to whom the tale can be told. The story unfolds through Irenie finding a cache of letters, which spur her on to visit Islamabad, where she meets her mother’s family, and also Firdaus, and that is how she finds out the rest of the story.
That, I think, tells you enough to whet your appetite. You will hang on every word.