Thursday, 3 September 2015

Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik: Review and Q&A

The book is published by Twenty7 - an innovative new imprint publishing all their titles in ebook first. The paperback of Sofia Khan is Not Obliged is out in January. I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb: "Sofia Khan is a single 30-year old Muslim woman, living in London with her parents. After her (ex) boyfriend suggested that she move in to his parents’ house after they were married – a house which has a convenient hole-in-the-wall for parental spying – Sofia decides she’s better off without men.

Meanwhile, Sofia has several post-Ramadan resolutions which should (hopefully) enable her to become a better and more insightful human being: give up smoking, unglue self from all social media outlets, serve literature through being a brilliant book publicist, accept that life may never contain sex, remember to continually update blog (Yes, I’m Muslim, Please Get Over It) and scout out more appropriate praying locations (although the medical cupboard at work may have to do). Being a strong independent Muslim woman in the 21st Century is no easy task.

And there’s one more thing: her boss wants her to write a book on Muslim dating. So in between preparations for her sister’s wedding, her best friend’s polygamous marriage and her family’s unsubtle hints about her own marital future, Sofia plunges herself into the less-than-perfect world of modern dating.

With the warmth and authenticity of Bend It Like Beckham and the hilarity of Bridget Jones, Sofia Khan is Not Obliged is an original contemporary romantic comedy about modern life as a British Muslim, the trials of awkward dates and finding love in unexpected places."

I think this is a brilliant first novel by Ayisha Malik. It gives a great cultural insight into the life of a single, Muslim woman. I found it particularly interesting as I had very little knowledge of British Muslim culture before reading this novel, especially surrounding dating. This novel also highlights the lack of knowledge about Muslim society in Britain, which makes this book really important for others to read so that people can understand each other better.

I found the characters to be likable, even with the wide-ranging ideas that they represented. Ayisha portrays Sofia's strong familial relationships really well, which demonstrates what an integral part of Muslim culture families are. Especially with the idea that, when married, women sometimes move in with their husbands' families.

I felt that I learned a lot while being thoroughly entertained. The comparison to Bridget Jones is fair, and in some ways I enjoyed this book even more than Bridget Jones as Sofia felt like a stronger character. I found the depictions of Sofia's varying relationships with her colleagues, friends and strangers really interesting to show the range of receptions she receives; from accepting and supportive to casual or outright racism.

This book is also very funny and definitely had very emotional moments too. I liked the style of the writing and found it really easy to read.

I would give this book 8 out of 10. I hope Ayisha can write another book soon!

My Q&A with Ayisha Malik

Ayisha Khan is the exciting new author of Sofia Khan is Not Obliged which is the first title in a brand new imprint from Bonnier, called Twenty7, which only publishes work by debut novelists, first in ebook and later in paperback. Read on for her thoughts.

How have you found this experience of writing your first book?

Generally wonderful. Perhaps hindsight is rose-tinted though. I remember having a lot of ‘breaks’ from writing – most of the time because it becomes an all-consuming world and I needed to engage with reality for a while.

How long did it take you to write it?

On and off, just over two years.

Who is your favourite character in the book?

How to choose! I am rather partial to Conall, I must say.

Sofia has to deal with racism in the book, have you ever had to deal with this yourself?

Yes. I think it’s hard not to have come across it in some form or another when you’re Pakistani, and on top of which, wear a hijab. Part and parcel of the gig.

In the book, there is a lot of pressure on Muslim women to marry within their religion. Do you think Muslim men are encouraged to the same extent?

I think they are but if they choose not to then there’s less stigma attached to it. There’s a verse in the Qur’an that can be interpreted to justify their marrying outside the religion. Personally I think it’s a pretty flimsy excuse because as with so many other verses it’s just exploited to suit a person’s need. It’s slowly changing now though and more women are breaking the mould. At the end of it, it’s a very personal decision and it really depends on what the religion means to you.

How do you think Sofia's family will react when they find out who she is in love with?

Ah, they’ll just have to deal with it, won’t they?

What main message do you want people to take away from your book?

There isn’t a message as such, but I’d like the reader to go away with a feeling – actually several feelings, if possible. I want them to feel hopeful, but I also want there to be empathy and understanding (a bit of feel-good joy thrown in for good measure). Many aspects of Sofia’s life might feel foreign to non-Muslim and non-Asian readers, but I want to close that gap of ‘otherness’. Hopefully Sofia is written well enough so that her Muslim-ness becomes incidental and she is just another heroine who the reader roots for.

Do you have any plans to write another book?

Yes, I do. Let’s hope Sofia is well received because there’s more of her to come.

What books have you enjoyed reading recently?

I’m reading ‘Room’ right now and I’m utterly, utterly gripped. It deserves every bit of praise it’s received.