Today I’m delighted to join the tour for No Honour, the brand new novel from Awais Khan. My thanks go to publisher Orenda Books for providing an advance copy of the book for review and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to join the tour. Here’s what the book is all about:
About the Book
A young woman defies convention in a small Pakistani village, with devastating results for her and her family. A stunning, immense beautiful novel about courage, family and the meaning of love, when everything seems lost…
In sixteen-year-old Abida’s small Pakistani village, there are age-old rules to live by, and her family’s honour to protect. And, yet, her spirit is defiant and she yearns to make a home with the man she loves.
When the unthinkable happens, Abida faces the same fate as other young girls who have chosen unacceptable alliances – certain, public death. Fired by a fierce determination to resist everything she knows to be wrong about the society into which she was born, and aided by her devoted father, Jamil, who puts his own life on the line to help her, she escapes to Lahore and then disappears.
Jamil goes to Lahore in search of Abida – a city where the prejudices that dominate their village take on a new and horrifying form – and father and daughter are caught in a world from which they may never escape.
Moving from the depths of rural Pakistan, riddled with poverty and religious fervour, to the dangerous streets of over-populated Lahore, No Honour is a story of family, of the indomitable spirit of love in its many forms … a story of courage and resilience, when all seems lost, and the inextinguishable fire that lights one young woman’s battle for change.
This is a very difficult book for me to review. Not because it’s not a good book, or because I didn’t enjoy it. It is and I did, as much as you can ‘enjoy’ a book with such a difficult subject matter. It’s difficult exactly because of the very nature of the book, a complex and emotive subject which has been handled in a careful but challenging way by the author. We are all aware of the concept of arranged, or even forced marriage, and of honour killings, but this book tackles that most taboo of situations head on, starting in a way which will both shock and stun readers. If you are sensitive to subjects such as infanticide, then I recommend caution. The opening scenes are very difficult to read, but if you can work past what occurs, scenes which merely set the story up for the kind of danger that our protagonists have to navigate in the next couple of hundred pages, you will be rewarded with a story that, whilst difficult, is infused with a sense of hope and a feeling that love, and hope can still lead to a positive ending.
This is a complex subject, and I have to commend the author for being willing to tackle the subject and to try and put himself in the position of a young woman who is held to account based on the principles and definition of honour prescribed by history and by men. It is not that unusual that a woman who falls pregnant out of wedlock should be chastised and persecuted by others, and it is not a situation which is peculiar to Pakistan or the Muslim community. You only have to look at recent headlines in the UK about forced adoptions in the not so distant past, and changes to abortion rights in certain US States in the all to present day, to know that the church, and the courts, have always tried to determine how a woman should live and when they have the rights to be a mother. What is unique to the story is the extreme way in which such perceived dishonour is handled in the small community in which our main character, Abida lives. It is dark, it is emotional and it is all too believable and Awais Khan has created a story which will repel, enrage even, readers, but draws you in as you are determined to see life finally come good for Abida and her unborn child.
This is a balanced story and it does not attempt to portray all men as evil which, given the circumstances would be a very easy line to take. The story explores the weaknesses of men for sure, but also the evil that can be released upon young women by other women in their lives. This is a story of honour – or perceived honour – but it is also a story of the propensity of mankind to inflict pain and suffering upon others, especially in the pursuit of wealth or power. Because that is what drives all of the negative themes in this story and what could make it a very dark and depressing read if the author hadn’t given us such strong and determined characters in Abida and her father, Jamil.
Abida is a character whose sense and maturity belie her age. It is hard to remember that she is a teenager given the pain, suffering and abuse that she is subjected to. Whilst it is largely conducted off the page, there is never a doubt in reader’s minds of the ways in which she is betrayed, and lesser women, lesser characters you may have expected to just give up. But there is a strength and a defiance in Abida right from the start. It isn’t driver from the abuse she suffers, but it certainly evolves as a result of it. There are moments of expected melancholy but the fire within her never dims for long and she is someone I found it easy to root for, even if what she is subjected to is very hard to read or accept. Then there is her father Jamil, a man guided by his own sense of honour, who defies the village elder in order to defend his. headstrong daughter. No matter the shame it brings down on him and his family, his dedication to Abida, his determination to help her, really adds some much needed hope and light to the story.
You do get a good sense of place within the novel and from the small village where Anida grows up, through to the crowded and dangerous streets of Lahore. You can feel the step change in tone and atmosphere between the two, as well as the way in which the daily city life slowly grinds down that sense of hope that you can feel in Abida when she first arrives in the city. The author portrays the big divide between the two locations, the two cultures, perfectly. Lahore may claim to be more advanced, but the same kind of problems and challenges exist, just amplified, something which you can feel through the language and pacing of the story.
Yes, you will likely be offended by many parts of the story. And yes, you might hope that much is exaggerated for dramatic effect. Perhaps it is, but I fear that much is grounded in a very dark dose of reality. Women’s rights is a subject that needs to keep being brought to the fore and not just ignored as it is all to easy, even in the most allegedly ‘enlightened’ of societies for those rights to be slowly eroded and reversed. And in spite of what you might think, in spite of how the majority of this story progresses and that constant sense of threat and tension that permeates through each page, there is a distinct sense of hope by the end. Of the possibility of positive change, and not just for Abida.
A difficult story to read, but an important one to be told. Prepare to be taken on quite the memorable journey.
About the Author
Awais Khan is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario and Durham University. He has studied creative writing with Faber Academy. His debut novel, In the Company of Strangers, was published to much critical acclaim and he regularly appears on TV and Radio. Awais also teaches a popular online creative writing course to aspiring writers around the world. He is currently working on his third book. When not working, he has his nose buried in a book. He lives in Lahore.
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