This story was very different from the things I normally read, but at the same time was exactly the type of thing I enjoy reading; I learnt a lot about a culture unfamiliar to me, I had my heart broken, I fell in love with the leading lady & was devastated by the ending. This is one hell of a book, & I definitely think you should read it.
I was sent this book to review as part of the blog tour organised by Rachel’s Random Resources.
Mona has almost everything: money, friends, social status… everything except for freedom. Languishing in her golden cage, she craves a sense of belonging…
Desperate for emotional release, she turns to a friend who introduces her to a 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.
Normally I have a warning in the opening of my review, but today I want to write a paragraph covering the warnings within my actual review for In the Company of Strangers as the things I’m warning readers about are a pivotal part of the story. I may go into more detail about some of these issues further down but for now I want to highlight the following:
- Bomb scenes & gun shootings, including the medical aftermath
- Discussions/scenes involving terrorism & terrorist opinions
- Domestic violence
- Scenes of a sexual nature
- Sexual violence
It is very possible that I may have missed some of the topics but these are the ones that stood out to me. I actually contacted author Awais Khan about the variety of hard-hitting themes included in the book, & with his permission, have included parts of his reply to me below. I would also like to highlight that Awais is Pakistani.
“When I wrote this book, I tried to envision what the characters’ state of mind would be. I’m quite averse to most of the issues I’ve discussed. Personally, I find them all abhorrent … But, then I had to stay true to the general Pakistani mindset where girls and boys are expected to be of a certain weight and a certain complexion. These are most definitely not my personal views. Anyone who knows me would be able to tell you that. I also feel that by raising these issues and talking about them, we can shine a light on what’s wrong with our society and maybe pave the way for betterment. That’s what I hope for Pakistan, at least.
I wanted to write about Pakistani high society since nobody gets to read about them and their hypocrisy and their toxic views. I felt it was important to present a different side of Pakistan, one the western world is not familiar with. Sadly, it comes with disturbing issues.”
Now that the gritty bit is out of the way, I want to praise this story for how brilliant it is; Awais Khan’s writing is superb & despite the book starting off as looking like a romance (a genre I don’t generally read), I was hooked from the first few chapters… this is one of those books that digs its claws into you with every page you read & I was committed to reading this book, & doing nothing else, whenever I wasn’t working. This book has some horrific themes, that made me cry buckets, so it feels strange to say I enjoyed it, but I did – I was interested in all aspects of the book, even the bits that turned my stomach, & it was so hard to put In The Company of Strangers down when it was time to sleep.
Each of the characters in this book give you reasons to hate them & love them; leading lady Mona is damaged & definitely suffers with mental health problems, she’s beaten by her husband & is desperately miserable. But, she’s spoilt & selfish, & some of her choices made me want to scream. Ali was a sweetheart, someone I wanted to wrap in cotton wool, but his fat-phobic & sexist views (which the author does not share) angered me & his idiocy made me want to throttle him. Bilal was a cruel, hard man who treated his wife like she was dirt & he’s exactly the type of male I loathe, but like Mona, he seemed broken & I wanted to know what happened to him in his youth, to make him so awful. Meera was a fierce, independent woman, & despite how much her culture tried to silence her, she did what she wanted when she wanted – nevertheless she was also selfish & acted without thinking, which had bad consequences for the people around her. I think the only “main” character I felt pure hatred for was Mir Rabiullah & if you read the book you’ll understand why.
It’s hard to discuss the plot of this book because it covers so much, but what I can say is that the writing was stunning & complex, & it was hard not to get gripped by it. Awais Khan is incredibly talented & his voice throughout the entire book was hypnotic; I learnt a lot about Pakistani culture but he also shows you how complicated people can be & that even if you think you know someone, there’s probably a lot more to them than you realise. Awais has created his characters with so much detail & their individual chapters were really easy to distinguish; Mona was my favourite to read, but I wish we’d seen more from Bilal’s perspective because I’m desperate to figure him out. I’m not sure the length of time that the book is set over, but it felt like I lived a lifetime within 272 pages; it was a phenomenal story & one that leaves you deep in thought.
This review is almost twice as long as my usual ones, but for a book this complex it just had to be. This story isn’t an easy read, & it definitely isn’t for everyone, but I savoured every word & was broken by the end. If you’re up for a difficult, dark & painfully honest story, then give In The Company of Strangers a chance:
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Awais Khan is a graduate of Western University and Durham University. Having been an avid reader and writer all his life, he decided to take the plunge and study Novel Writing and Editing at Faber Academy in London. His work has appeared in the Missing Slate Magazine, Daily Times and MODE, and he has been interviewed by leading television channels like PTV, Voice of America, Samaa TV and City 42, to name a few. He is also the Founder of The Writing Institute, one of the largest institutions for Creative Writing in Pakistan. He lives in Lahore and frequently visits London for business.
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