A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
This is a lightly edited reblog from last September, when this splendid rom com was but an ebook and I read it on holiday and was completely bowled over. Now, it’s a proper grown-up paperback, available from all good bookshops, so prepare to be swept off your feet all over again.
How can Sofia Khan go wrong? It’s the new (better) Bridget Jones. It’s intelligent, very funny, sharp, heart-breaking, witty, superbly plotted, and realistic. It will remind readers without Muslim friends of Bend It Like Beckham, and is simply a joy to read. It’s also damn well written.
Ayisha Malik, who was a publicist in a big London publishing firm (she’s now a managing editor in a literary consultancy), was persuaded to write a book about Muslim dating by her boss. So she wrote this novel, about a publicist in a London publishing firm who’s having trouble negotiating dating and finding a man to marry, and whether she actually wants one, because she’s a Muslim. Obviously this is a meta-experiential novel, as literary types label it when they bother to look at fiction that people want to buy and read right now. Sofia Khan is NOT Obliged is also beautifully written, painfully true, and a feminist love story without gush.
I began reading it after lunch and could not move from the sofa until I’d finished, and was then bereft: what happens NEXT? Tell me NOW. I laughed out loud, I mopped the corners of my eyes a couple of times, I was totally gripped. Sofia Khan is in the supermarket looking for emergency biscuits, and she gets chatted up by the rather gorgeous Naim, just over from the USA to help his family out with their business for a few months. Sofia is getting over having to dump Imran, whom she should have married but has refused to, and is under serious collateral pressure by all the marriages shaping up around her. She’s about to try online dating: why? Her sister Maria is forging ahead to marry Tahir and move in with her in-laws (one of the things that Sofia could not do). Her lovely friend Hannah is determined that a polygamous marriage with Zulfi (non-legal in Britain) is what she wants, despite his existing first wife and children. The glamorous model Suj is dating another model, but he’s black: how will her family take it? And Fozia the perpetually sarcastic is swithering so hard about who she wants that she’s in a tailspin. In their world, Muslim women always marry, but at least these girls get to choose. Sofia’s parents may make a lot of noise about who she chooses, but they always allow her the choice.
You might be repelled by such a focus on marriage, as if these intelligent, independent working women didn’t have other things in their lives that needed attention. I dislike Sex and the City for that exact reason. But these fabulous Muslim women don’t, naturally, have sex in their lives. They are serious and Sofia, for one, is devout. The parts where she tries to find privacy to pray five times a day in an office environment had me howling with laughter. At least she got brownie points for being their diversity statistic. They also don’t have alcohol in their lives. Without sex and alcohol, this is a tremendous romantic novel about women’s choices, friendships, aspirations, hard work and irritation with the fuckwittery of men (thank you, Bridget Jones). It has serious depth and powerful messages. I haven’t mentioned all the men that Sofia meets, nor will I discuss how they influence her decisions. This is a superb novel about modern Britain and modern living. Its current publicity is running the very endearing strapline ‘Your perfect antidote to Valentine’s Day’. Go buy a copy immediately.
Ayisha Malik, Sofia Khan is NOT Obliged (Twenty7 Books, 2015), ISBN 9781785770036
Kate will be interviewing Ayisha at the University of Reading’s Creative Writers series of public talks, on 23 February: CW Talks Poster