Friday, June 30

Book: Life, Love and Assimilation, Kia Abdullah Click for more info

There is little separating this story of this Kieran Ali, a young girl growing up in East London, from what we've seen previously. As usual I won't dwell on the plot detail, but there isn't much new here and anyone who attended an Asian uni or read the previous Asian writing will have heard it all before. And since I've started with a negative, I may as well get some of the rest out of the way too.

LLA is clearly the work of a young and new author. The standard of English is quite worrying for a published book. I know I'm pedantic, but using "I" instead of "me" is pretty inexcusable, although perhaps that should be the responsibility of the editor or something. Either way it's pretty important and something that can turn readers away.

There are some really corny bits too (maybe I'm alone in cringing at the idea of romance over semaphores, but I won't mention the sex scenes at all), and I can't help but suspect that the author is suffering from what I like to call Asian-Girl-With-Chip-On-Her-Shoulder-Hating-On-Asian-Men syndrome. However since there was no white hero (although a Pakistani comes awfully close) or gay best friend this time, I could be wrong about that one.

The random, dairy like presentation of the story works well though, giving the relatively short story (of 170 pages) a nice brisk pace. I think a good five or six years are covered and a lot happens overall. Curiously there are a lot of anecdotal mini-tales which at first glance seem pretty irrelevant to the main story, but do eventually serve a purpose - more on that later. I also enjoyed the oh-so-predictable ending, although I wish it had been a bit more involving.

Characterisation is one of the major things I look for in books. It's why Perdido is one of my favourites of all time, and why I enjoyed Atonement so much. And characterisation is why I found this book so gripping (as proven by my being caught multiple times jamming up the printer at work to get my next fix of a few more pages). Again, Kieran's story, or more precisely the context in which she found herself, is nothing new. But it did become unique and powerful as she, herself, came alive. I'll even admit to losing my breath at some points - and to be clear I didn't care what happened to her; I was more interested in how she reacted, how she rationalised and how she punished or rewarded herself afterwards. You know you're caught up when you start screaming at a fictional being.

Unlike the characters belonging to the stories LLA has repeatedly been compared to, the ones here seem to be balanced and sometimes even superfluous (there are eight siblings, and I had lost count of the number of best friends) and not just created to make a point or statement belonging to the author. In short, they're all real and normal and flawed and pathetic - Kieran most of all, and by the end of the book I got to know her thoughts pretty well. That's where the apparent irrelevancies I mentioned above come into play, since to know someone is to know the boring bits about them as well as the more important ones. That's an attention to detail you won't find in many other books, folks.

Going back to the writing, I think identity crisis sums up this book pretty well. The structure is as mixed up as the girl it's following around. Religious statements are regularly shoehorned in (some of which I found pretty patronising), and at times I couldn't help but frown at what appeared to be filler gluing the more interesting bits together. The author seems to have been a bit ambitious in what she wanted to include in this book but instead of cutting bits out to save for later she wedged them in anyway. A bit like this review, then.

In conclusion LLA is badly written (possibly) but manages to shine through in other, less tangible, areas regardless. This can only be a good thing; this being a debut, the technical ability of an author can only get better as time goes on. Kia Abdullah, however, seems to have already nailed the skill of giving a story spirit and character, something that is much more difficult to get right no matter how compelling the plot (cough, The Da Vinci Code, cough). And that's why I remain confident and interested in what more she has to offer us in future.

1 comment:

  1. for me..i just think it went downhill in the second half.