This Green and Pleasant Land is a charming book about community, and in particular what that means in modern-day, multicultural Britain. The novel begins with a series of big changes in Bilal Hasham’s life: his mother has just died, his elderly Aunt Rukhsana has just come to live with him, and his marriage is going through a rocky patch.
To confuse things even further, he just can’t get the last request that his mother made of him out of his mind, even though it’s one of the most bizarre things he’s heard of….just before she died, she suggests that he should build a mosque in the very traditional, very close-minded village he lives in Babel’s End. The novel explores the series of events that unfold once the small community gets wind of these plans.
In general I’d say this is quite an affirming and uplifting book, with some really funny parts that actually made me chuckle out loud. At the same time though, the novel doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of racism in Britain. Some of the racist actions the Hashams have to face are quite affronting and obvious, but what is described brilliantly in the novel is the dangerous undercurrent of more subtle and unacknowledged racism that can run under everyday actions and comments. The novel switches between different characters, so many of whom maintain that their prejudice is (of course) not fuelled by racism. As Shelley says to affirm her own discrimination against the Hashams: it has “nothing to do with skin tone, it was the unknown”. In this way, the novel explores how this type of unconscious discrimination can be just as, and in some ways more dangerous than more overt racism.
I loved the way the novel brings out a strong sense of community, and all the positive and negative sides of close-knit life in a small village. While the Hasham’s are naturally central characters in this novel, the whole community is brought to life at different times, through various side stories and relationships between different characters. Malik also explores the idea of family from several angles – both traditional Muslim families with generations of family living together, and the less traditional set-up that Bilal and Mariam have, living with Mariam’s son and Bilal’s step-son Haaris and in the shadow of Mariam’s ex-partner.
I’d definitely recommend this novel; it captures modern-day multicultural Britain and all its flaws and opportunities perfectly. Hopefully this book will give everyone who reads it a lot to think about.
About the Author
Ayisha Malik is a British Muslim, lifelong Londoner, and lover of books. She read English Literature and went on to complete an MA in Creative Writing. She has spent various spells photocopying, volunteering, being a publicist at Random House, and managing editor at Cornerstones Literary Consultancy. Her novels include, ‘Sofia Khan is Not Obliged’ and ‘The Other Half of Happiness’. She is also the ghost writer for GBBO winner, Nadiya Hussain and has contributed to the anthology, ‘A Change is Gonna Come.’
This Green and Pleasant Land by Ayisha Malik was published in paperback earlier this month with Zaffre.
Many thanks to Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers for inviting me to participate in this tour! Check out all the other reviews by other the bloggers on this tour: