Huma Qureshi confesses at the beginning of How we met that she was not sure whether she should have written these memoirs. It is the story of how she met And later married a white Englishman named Richard. It is, he worries, “little extraordinary And normal, And therefore an unimportant story to tell.” She may hold herself back, but her anxiety is not entirely out of place: at a time when public discussion of race And culture is often strident And self-righteous, at once accusatory And defensive, full of colonies. And phobias, the calm tone of his book, not to mention his cautious optimism, is almost shocking.
“My story may not be as dramatic as you hoped it would be,” Qureshi muses. “Maybe you were expecting a story of oppression, repression, my personal trauma perfectly spilled to fit a familiar narrative.” His father was from Lahore, his mother from UgAnda; They were both graduates, And she grew up in Walsall, where even the most bumpy weekend involved nothing more than relatives arriving at her house, “Cars parked on the road for miles occasionally annoyed white neighbors because someone’s Mercedes was half blocking the pavement or a walkway, the air thickens with the smell of kebabs And Bryan ”.
Qureshi studied at Warwick And later Paris, but returned home suddenly after his father suffered a stroke. She finds him unable to speak And cares for him for days And weeks (he eventually died after 18 months in the hospital). Thinking of the ways she can honor him, the travels And sacrifices he has made, his accomplishments as a doctor, he begins to listen to his mother And aunts, who believe that he should marry soon. His dreams had been independence, big cities, becoming a journalist; now, to feel less broken, to affirm that she is the daughter of her parents, she agrees to meet a sequence of suitable boys.
They are the opposite. A guy with potential (he liked to read Chekhov’s stories And watch old episodes of Party of five) chided her for not living with her mother. Another looked like “Saddam Hussein in a lemon V-neck sweater.” She was quick to tell me that she was prettier than I thought, given her age, And then, as if it was an afterthought, she mentioned that she needed an extension on her visa And oh, could you help? “A simple scoundrel said,” If there was one thing that could change about you, it would be your appearance. “What makes the situation so irritating is the unending enthusiasm of her aunts, one of whom prints And sends her prayers in Arabic: Reathese seven timees a day for three months And you are sure to find someone.
Qureshi sees the humor in these episodes, but is mostly in tune with his oIn pain. The Sad Girl Years is how she describes the period when she lives in London And works at the Observer. Her friends have places they bought, much better wages, a sense of direction; She has a room not far from Beckton Sewage Treatment Works, feels undervalued by her bosses, And is slowly eaten up by pain. At work events, “I often felt like I was looking from the outside at a moth hitting a window before falling.” Fearful of messing things up at the office during the day, cooking microwaved potatoes alone at night, feeling both fuzzy And raw, “My reflection is strangerer on the subway” – many readers will recognize your twenties years in these passages.
Qureshi says a lot about being insufficiently pretty, tall, or successful. His descriptions of married life are optimistic: “Richard is a brilliant father. He’s patient And loving And always gets up at night before I do if one of the boys ever wakes up. “More surprising is that his father’s presence is elusive: the only times he feels palpable are when he is described as stAnding on the lAnding singing “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” or walking into the kitchen “from the garden after you’ve mowed the laIn. in his vest, smelling of earth, of pure air ”.
I am glad that Qureshi, through an online dating site, seems to have found happiness. The last parts of the book describe how And why Richard, whose grAndparents were strict Methodists, converted to Islam despite Qureshi herself rarely attending the mosque, And her eagerness to introduce her to her mother. But I wish she had discussed in more depth why her younger self was enraged when her parents invoked “our culture.” And on the value, or not, of growing “learning to self-publish because that is what many of us, the second generation, had to do.” These are complex And resonant problems: How we met it offers hints that Qureshi might, in the future, approach them without mercy or clichés.
• How We Met: A Memoir of Love And Other Misadventures is published by Elliott & Thomp£14(RRP £ 14.99). To order a copy, go to guardianbookshop.com. Shipping charges may apply.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism