Thursday, April 02, 2009


Imran Ahmad caught my attention with this first page, especially the last sentence. I am posting it here, with his permission.

My mother's family and my father's family were from the same village in India but, in the chaos and insanity of Partition, they headed in different directions. I could describe those events and years of separation in heartrending, excruciating six-hundred-page detail, but this is not that kind of book. (This story will proceed mercifully briskly and you will not be tortured along the way.) Suffice to say that, eventually, both families ended up in Karachi, the capital of West Pakistan.

My father and mother were students together at Karachi University. My father took a liking to my mother and became fixated on the idea of marrying her. Or course, any form of romance was out of the question, so he took to visiting my mother's house, as a 'family friend', virtually every day for about five years. He could never seem to be there for the explicit purpose of seeing my mother, so he would busy himself with my mother's younger brother, who was a teenager. My father had a scooter and he would take my future uncle on rides around Karachi, perhaps to visit the beach, or to eat hot, fresh samosas, or to buy mangoes when they were in season. He had numerous traffic accidents in the process. Eventually, he was allowed to marry my mother and he moved into the house of my mother's family. My father was a civil servant and my mother was a primary-school teacher.

I didn't find out about any of this until my uncle told me, when he came to London from Texas for my father's funeral.
What kind of book is Unimagined; a Muslim boy meets the West? It's sort of a memoir about growing up in a Muslim family in London, at a time where there were very few non-whites and non-Christians. The book tells the story of a particular time and place, yet there are universal elements to his story. The vignettes of the growing distance between family members as they assimilate at differing rates remind me of The Joy Luck Club. The search for god, self and a sense of belonging remind me of Eat, Pray, Love, without the annoying self-pitying bits.

There's just one thing I don't understand.

The reconciliation of modernity and Islam is such a topical subject, why isn't this book a bestseller in the US? Why is he doing a self-funded low-budget book tour instead of a splashy book tour with lots of TV and radio interviews? OK, BBC covered it, but I haven't seen much in the American press.

I have been a fan of his blog, especially the posts labeled British Muslims for Secular Democracy and Islam and the West (Islam vs the West?). I was hoping to meet him when he comes through LA on his book tour, but 7:30 PM on a Wednesday in Pasadena might as well be the moon if you factor in LA traffic. I emailed him to bemoan the lack of a Westside event and he offered to have lunch with me before heading to Pasadena on April 22.

If you want to join us for lunch, leave a comment with your email address so I can direct you to the lunch spot.

And if you can help him out with housing on his book tour, that would be a big help.

1 comment:

  1. Still waiting over here for the Toronto Public Library to order the book. Maybe soon ...