The symbolism of Mary and child coming to liberate the immigrants may be heavy-handed, and occasionally Hussein’s language...



The first novel in English from one of the most important writers in Urdu, an Indian-born author (The Weary Generations, 1999) virtually unknown in the West. That should change.

The story is narrated alternately by Amir, an illegal immigrant in Birmingham, and by his teenaged daughter Parvin, who, having come to England at five, is struggling between the traditional expectations of her father and her desire to enter into the life of her adopted country. Adding drama are the time-shifts between Amir’s first coming to Birmingham and the present, when he is a legal homeowner but nevertheless engaged in a running battle with his wife and children, who have little idea of his struggles to give them a new and better life. It’s a conflict that brings to mind such writers as Henry Roth and Roth’s vivid images of the Lower East Side, as well as V.S. Naipaul with his tales of Indian immigrants in the Caribbean. But, while Abdullah does not suffer from such comparisons, his novel is unique in its depiction of a particular kind of suffering in what most of us consider a civilized country. Unforgettable, for example, is Amir’s memory of living in a house with eight other Pakistanis and his description of their absolute terror at being discovered by the authorities. One of the men finds a lover named Mary, who gets pregnant and later becomes the catalyst for a violent struggle that will break up the group home and force Amir and the others out on their own. After much difficulty, Amir becomes a British citizen, gets a job at the post office, and buys his own home. His dreams are realized, yet he doesn’t do nearly so well with his wife, daughter or son, all in different ways rejecting their father and the life he has chosen for them.

The symbolism of Mary and child coming to liberate the immigrants may be heavy-handed, and occasionally Hussein’s language can be awkward. But altogether Émigré Journeys is a remarkable performance.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-85242-638-1

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Serpent’s Tail

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2001

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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