Review: The Family Tree

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Rating: 4.5 Stars

First and foremost, I want to thank Sairish Hussain for writing this book. It was so refreshing to read about people that I could relate to; people like me, my friends, and my family. Hardly have there been books about people of Pakistani origin that portray them as normal, everyday humans, with average families and average lives, without the spectre of religion haunting the whole story, sometimes even overshadowing it!

The story spans a period of some 24 years, from 1993 to 2017, and is the tale of a family living in Yorkshire whose lives are turned upside down when the mother dies in childbirth, leaving behind a new-born girl and a ten year old boy with a very bewildered and upset father.

Amjad is a British-born man, whose parents migrated to Britain from Pakistan before his birth. He works at a warehouse and lives in a modest house, but dreams of giving his children a better life. Dreaming the same dream with him is Harun, Amjad’s best friend. Amjad’s son Saahil and Harun’s son Ehsan are also inseparable and do everything together. Amjad is left shattered when his wife Neelam dies while giving birth to their daughter Zarah. He is determined to do his best by his children and give them everything that he is capable of providing.

With Harun and his wife’s support, and with Saahil helping him along, Amjad manages to give his kids a loving home, not remarrying despite his Ammi’s constant nagging. Things start looking up when Zahra turns ten, and Saahil and Ehsan are all set to graduate from engineering university. And then everything changes in just one night. The lives of all these people change after an act of senseless violence, and Amjad finds himself left alone to raise Zahra with only the aid of his ageing Ammi.

The story is told from the perspective of the three main characters, and has a background of cultural and religious identities clashing with the politics of the times. The characters are so well fleshed out that I could picture them all as if they were right in front of me.

While there are many instances where I might have shed a tear or two, this book is not heavy on the heart; you never feel hopeless. Every character is determined in their own way, and tries to navigate life like everyone does in the real world.

All through the book we encounter things like racism, religious identity, inter racial friendships, sexism, and other relevant issues. Yet, not once do these issues take over the narrative and draw you away from the real story. It is like all these things are a part of life, not anyone’s whole life. And this is what makes this book amazing in my eyes.

Amjad is representative of all those fathers who live their lives for their children. His love for his family shines in his character above everything else. My heart ached so much for this man who was left to raise 2 kids on his own, and yet did the best that he could to give them a better future.

Saahil reminds me of those young men whose dreams are cut short by tragic circumstances, and who are forced to grow up much before their time. His actions and their consequences are so real and believable that you can’t help but feel sad for this boy.

…everyone is too busy telling us who we are. It’s time we spoke for ourselves.

My favourite character by far has to be Zahra, though. She is intelligent, smart, beautiful, and knows what she wants. She is not confused about her identity, and not apologetic about her heritage. She is a British Muslim with Pakistani roots, and the world has to accept her for who she is. It was sheer pleasure to encounter such a strong female character who doesn’t have to resort to props like a shalwar kameez or a hijab to make her a Muslim, nor does she need validation from the males around her to make her a good Pakistani girl. These are the kind of girls that I want to read about.

I would also like to add that I really love the cover of this book. It is beautiful, and so in sync with the book.

This is one book that I would recommend everyone to read, whether you are a South Asian or not.

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