In The Company of Strangers
by Awais Khan
It’s my stop on the “In The Company of Strangers” blog tour! Thanks very much to Rachel’s Random Resources and author Awais Khan who have kindly provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Lahore – a city of secretive glamour, whispering elites, and sordid affairs. A city brought to its knees by terrorism.
Forty one-year old Mona has almost everything: money, friends, social status… everything except for freedom in the repressed Pakistani society. Languishing in her golden cage, she craves a sense of belonging… of love.
Desperate for emotional release, she turns to an indulgent friend who introduces her to an alternate world of glitter, glamour, covert affairs and drugs. There she meets Ali, a physically and emotionally wounded man, years younger than her.
Heady with love, she begins a delicate game of deceit that spirals out of control and threatens to shatter the deceptive facade of conservatism erected by Lahori society, and potentially destroy everything that Mona has ever held dear.
I don’t know a great deal about Pakistan in general, let alone the lives of wealthy Pakistanis. I must say that I’m guilty of imagining Pakistan to be a place of war and poverty so when I first read about this book, I was instantly intrigued and wanted to find out more.
Awais Khan‘s debut novel, “In The Company of Strangers”, introduces us all to another side of the country, one you don’t tend to hear about in the newspapers. Khan helps us take an intricate look at the high society in Pakistan and what it’s really like to live amid the glamour of the upper class despite the threat of terrorism.
“That was it; he couldn’t take it anymore.
He flicked open the plastic casing that protected the button, and closed his eyes as his thumb punched it hard.”
The opening chapter features a suicide attack and during the aftermath, we’re introduced to some of the story’s main characters…
Mona and Bilal are a wealthy couple, unhappily married but stuck together for reasons of culture and religion. To everyone else Mona seems to have the perfect life, surrounded by friends and spoiled by wealth and social status, but behind closed doors Mona yearns for freedom.
“God, he loved that woman – more than everything in life. But she had never been his. She didn’t want to be. No matter what he did, it wasn’t enough. He wasn’t enough. There would be months when everything would be normal again, they’d be happy again, and just when he would begin to hold out hope that there really was love between them, something would shift in her. He’d lose his temper at the smallest thing, and she’s take it as a personal affront. And the same vicious cycle would commence again.”
Meera Siddique is an old friend of Mona’s, now a fashionable socialite and a release from the day-to-day for Mona. Meera is from the world of glitz and glam and when they meet again after many years, she exposes Mona to new experiences including covert affairs, drugs and alcohol.
The final main character, Ali, is from another world to the previous three. Growing up with poverty and suffering, Ali has had a tough life and is years younger than Mona, a woman he falls for despite their differences.
Telling the story of secretive and forbidden love, the chapters flick between different points of view, mostly those of Mona and Ali. It’s often my opinion that books tend to be longer than they should be so I was really glad to find a book that didn’t fit this mold. At 274 pages, this book may seem short to some, but Khan keeps things concise, without the need for lengthy description.
I liked this book and particularly enjoyed the last few chapters, which really had me gripped. I didn’t love the story, but that’s definitely down to personal taste rather than talent as Khan is a great storyteller and writes very well.
Overall rating: Debut author Awais Khan tells a captivating story giving us a peek at life in high society Pakistan. This book isn’t perfect but it is an eye-opening account that I’d recommend as a kind of modern day Pakistani Anna Karenina and if you don’t know much about the country, give this one a try!
Don’t forget to check out the reviews of other blogs on the tour and if this sounds like your kind of book, find it here on Amazon UK.