#BookReview This Green and Pleasant Land by Ayisha Malik @ZaffreBooks @ReadersFirst1

This Green and Pleasant Land Ayisha MalikAbout the Book

For years Bilal Hasham and his wife Mariam have lived contented, quiet lives in the sleepy, rural village of Babbel’s End. Now all that is about to change.

On her deathbed, Bilal’s mother reaches for his hand. Instead of whispering her final prayers, she gives him a task: build a mosque in his country village.

Mariam is horrified by Bilal’s plan. His friends and neighbours are unnerved. As outrage sweeps Babbel’s End, battle lines are drawn. His mother’s dying wish reveals deeper divisions in their village than Bilal had ever imagined.

Soon Bilal is forced to choose between community and identity, between faith and friendship, between honouring his beloved mother’s last wish and preserving what is held dear in the place that he calls home.

Format: Hardcover (454 pages)       Publisher: Zaffre
Publication date:  13th June 2019  Genre: Contemporary Fiction

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My Review

In Babbel’s End, the author creates a picture of a community which exhibits all the features of small village life: gossip, petty rivalries and disputes between neighbours, the latter exemplified by the hilarious “battle of Tom’s bush”.  However, a recent tragedy has exposed the village to very modern day issues and the response to it (or lack of response to it) has heightened tensions.  As one character observes, “Living in their farmland, thinking nothing’s more important than a fete or a stolen ceramic pot; in the meantime, to hell with what anyone’s going through.” For Richard, the community’s vicar, the tragedy has caused him to doubt his ability to provide comfort where needed, including at a very personal level. “He seemed to have lost the ability to inspire people to faith or find the right words to help people in distress.”

Bilal, his wife Mariam, and son Haaris have embraced village life. In fact, their relocation from Birmingham to Babbel’s End was a deliberate move to escape his family’s expectations that he maintain aspects of his Pakistani heritage despite his having been born in Britain.  His mother’s deathbed wish changes all that, particularly when the strength of opposition becomes clear.  As disapproval bubbles over into overt racism, things get very personal and Bilal is tempted to forget the whole idea. “Change was meant for fascist states and oppressive governments, not serene, bobbing-along, minding-it’s-own-business Babbel’s End.”

As the news of Bilal’s mission goes viral, it becomes a bigger issue than just church versus mosque but raises questions of identity, religious freedom and diversity. As Bilal observes, “What did everyone even mean by English? Bilal was English. Though he could concede that having a mosque in the middle of the village might not be. Surely you could be and want two different things at the same time?

My favourite character in the book was Bilal’s Aunt (Khala) Rukhsana.  Speaking little English, at first she is something of a fish out of water.  However, she demonstrates the ability to reach out to people in other ways and really does emerge as the heroine of the piece.  For instance, I loved the gradual blossoming of her relationship with Mariam, especially their joint ‘assault’ on the school bake sale substituting the usual cupcakes for something traditionally Indian. “And so they began the process of making the sweet, fragrant, yellow rice, to give everyone in Babbel’s End a taste of what was to come.”

This Green and Pleasant Land teaches us that divisions can be healed if we just take the time to understand the other person’s point of view, that it’s important to seize the day and that, in the words of Rukhsana, “home must be where you feel most alive”.

I received a review copy courtesy of Zaffre and Readers First.

In three words: Warm, engaging, uplifting

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Ayisha MalikAbout the Author

Ayisha Malik is a writer and editor, living in South London. She holds a BA in English Literature and a First Class MA in Creative Writing. Her novels Sofia Khan is Not Obliged and The Other Half of Happiness, starring ‘the Muslim Bridget Jones’, were met with great critical acclaim, and Sofia Khan is Not Obliged was chosen as 2019’s Cityread book. Ayisha was a WHSmith Fresh Talent Pick, shortlisted for the Asian Women of Achievement Award and Marie Claire’s Future Shapers Awards. Ayisha is also the ghost writer for The Great British Bake Off winner, Nadiya Hussain.

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