Wednesday 27 March 2019

This Green and Pleasant Land by Ayisha Malik

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

Ayisha Malik has a way of luring you in with a book that appears to be a comedy of manners and then sucker punching you with something much deeper.

This time, Malik takes us away from cosmopolitan London to a sleepy English village of Babbel’s End where Bilal has moved with his young wife and step-son, and where apparently little has changed for hundreds of years

Bilal is the model of what Nikesh Shukla has dubbed the Good Immigrant – educated, integrated, a member of the parish council. His neighbours even call him Bill. But all that changes when a deathbed promise to his mother prompts Bilal to propose building a mosque in the village.

There are echoes here of two much-loved comedy programmes – Little Mosque on the Prairie and The Vicar of Dibley. But as always, inside the velvet glove of Malik’s humour is an iron fist of social commentary. She ruthlessly exposes that veneer that glosses over what Afua Hirsch describes in Brit(ish) as “classic British racism, only half said and half implied a kind of polite prejudice that is only more pernicious for its subtlety.”

Straight after Bilal’s announcement, Shelley, the doyen of the parish council, swings into action. Of course she’s not a racist. It has nothing to do with Bilal’s skin colour. But there was a certain way of doing things in these parts and it doesn’t include the building of mosques!

As the village takes sides between Shelley and Bilal,and the protests get nastier, things are complicated by the arrival of Khala, Bilal’s auntie, recovering after a fall. Khala is everything that Bilal and his wife were not – a visibly Muslim woman with limited English who has lived much of her life in Britain without apparently 'integrating' at all. Yet could she be the one who succeeds in building the bridges that will heal this fractured community?

Malik’s humour is as tender and bittersweet as ever. And the book is surely a foretaste of things to come, as the diversity of Britain’s big cities spreads inexorably out into the countryside. Here’s hoping that voices like Malik’s will help convince everyone that there is nothing to fear from this and everything to celebrate.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved
: Sofia Kahn is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik, The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling, Little Mosque on the Prairie (Canadian television show)

Avoid If You Dislike: Exploring the seamier side of English country life

Perfect Accompaniment: Zarda (sweet rice dish with raisins and almonds)

Genre: Literary Fiction, Humour

Available on Amazon

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