Well-drawn portrait of the Muslim community

This debut novel is interesting for a number of reasons. Its Cape Town settings include an upmarket Foreshore hotel, the mountain and Athlone. Shehzad Shadili is the main character, a young Muslim man, working in the hotel as one of its higher minions. His father has recently been displaced by a new imam at an Athlone mosque.

Shehzad presents a smooth, charming and efficient front to the world, but has returned from London, where after the July 2005 bombs the lives of ordinary Muslims have been made very difficult. He carries the traumatic memory of a humiliating raid on a friend’s flat and subsequent interrogation.

Back in Cape Town trouble is brewing around a proposed golf estate (the very phrase is coming to be code for corruption and greed in the name of a paradise for a few). This developers’ project will engulf a kramat and the grave of Shehzad’s grandfather.

The new imam, from Saudi Arabia, turns out to be involved with the developer who is one of the long-term guests at the hotel. Add to this mix a nubile but basically nice daughter of the developer.

In some ways this is light and easy reading. It has some amusing moments and Shehzad’s brother, Jay (shortened from Jihad which he decided he couldn’t live with), is a well-drawn portrait of a young man full of energy and intelligence, but no longer committed to the Muslim imperatives of their imam father, whom they nevertheless both still love. For this reason the brothers devise a plan to defuse a fatwa.

This is an interesting addition to portrayals of the Muslim communities in South Africa.

The writing is a bit patchy: in places quite slick and in others very powerful.

Badal’s many references to Persian poetry, songs and prayers give the novel a dimension of spirituality which is in strong contrast to its worldly preoccupations.

There is a certain uneasiness in this disjunction and the reader is left unsure as to which world is more important to Shehzad and indeed to Badal himself, or whether Badal intended to draw this contrast.



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