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by Kasim Ali

Pub Date: March 8th, 2022
ISBN: 978-1-250-80960-5
Publisher: Henry Holt

A debut novel that suggests the term "star-crossed romance" may just be a way of pinning on the innocent cosmos the damage we do ourselves, without meaning to.

Nur is a young Brit, eldest son in a close-knit family of Pakistani immigrants. As the novel begins on New Year's Eve, he is about to spill the news to his parents that he has, for the last four years, been seeing a woman—has for the last two of those been living with her, secretly—and that he intends to marry her. Yasmina is charming, self-possessed, lovely, intelligent, a Ph.D. student with a bright future; she's also the child of immigrants, also a practicing Muslim. But Nur's announcement has been long-delayed, and it feels guilty and furtive and fraught, an occasion for anxiety rather than joy. So why the hesitation, the cloak-and-dagger—why the lies? Because Yasmina's family is Sudanese, and Nur worries about his family's response to her Blackness. The rest of the book moves backward to depict, uncomfortably but effectively, the private history that's led to Nur's announcement and moves forward to explore the implications of his delay and reluctance for his relationships with both his family and Yasmina. The backward-looking part of the book has the plot of conventional romance; the forward-looking part, which explores the aftermath of Nur's announcement (built largely around his dithery way of arranging a first meeting between his parents and Yasmina's), is fresher and more compelling. In the tradition of Spike Lee's film School Daze, Ali's novel explores the ways that racism may do its insidious damage even among those who are traditionally not its targets and victims. Despite Nur's sense that he's impeccably right-minded and anti-racist, despite the fact that he truly loves Yasmina and wants to make his life with her, his insistence on putting off and putting off telling his family about his beloved may be less a realist's acknowledgment of the racism in the world than a kind of accommodation of or even collusion with it.

An exploration of the ways that race and family ties may complicate or imperil romance even if everyone means well.