In National Geographic ‘s documentary The Story of Us, British Asian lawyer Hina Belitz ‘s debut book, 2016 ‘s Set Me Free, won her the freedom to air her views on marriage. To Lahore with Passion, a bicultural novel about a similarly bicultural character, Audrey ‘Addy’ Mayford, who lives with her Irish mother and Pakistani paternal grandmother, Nana, in the United Kingdom, has followed this up.
Addy refers to her grandmother as ‘Nana’, which is fully known in the West; but in this situation, while it is unpleasant for me to point out errors appearing on book-jacket blurbs, I can do so. The blurb on the back cover erroneously states that Addy is brought up by her “Pakistani nana” (meaning maternal grandfather), which makes it clear that the printing editor in question did not bother to familiarise himself or herself with even a cursory evaluation of the quality of the book Lahore.
In the case of Belitz’s novel, the adage ‘never judge a book by its cover’ never rang truer. While promoted as a chick-lit bicultural endeavour, the text is far more than that in fact. It starts with a scene where Addy accuses her beloved husband, Gabe, of cheating on her. Elegantly written, funny and eminently readable. While this is not proved conclusively until far later in the novel, a few days later, Gabe steps out on her inexplicably, leaving her feeling completely shattered. Addy agrees to stay in Lahore, at the urging of her best friend, Jen, and encouraged by her relatives, in order to explore her origins and to find some inner happiness.
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Addy, a gourmet chef, works at a restaurant called Arabian Delights, and the book is interspersed liberally with around 20 recipes, both Pakistani (thanks to Nana’s influence) and otherwise. Food is an important part of the imaginative underpinnings of the novel in a tradition reminiscent of Mexican author Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate; Addy has a formula to fight her every depressive mood, or improve her every good one. However, even though she is very much at ease with her career, one gets the feeling that, on the other hand, she is equally dissatisfied with her cultural background Lahore.
She remains continually torn between the strong, mystical Islamic religion of Nana and the Christianity to which her mother still adheres, having lost her father to an accident when she was very young. Addy states pointedly that she had two wedding ceremonies, one in white Western garb, the other in red and gold, and while this is understandable, it shows a psychological divide in much of her acts and motivations.
Published in Dharti News, November 3rd, 2020