Review; The Khan by Saima Mir

Book club seems to have fallen through.

Even with an extension of two weeks the rest of the members didn’t find the time to read it. Working the hours I do, it is hard to find the time and motivation to read …to do anything. I am not a fast reader either – sometimes I read out loud and follow words with my finger. Other times, my eyes just cannot handle looking at things after a long hard day in studio, under glaring unnatural lights emulating day/night. Rehearsing scenes and then filming the same scene 5 different times, so that every character gets their wide, close and master close up can be quite draining, mentally. I may not have children AND a job, however, I am busy in different ways.

I finished the book and passed it on to a work colleague who finished the book in a week!! A week?! Mind you, I remember finishing #Untamed in a week, because book club wouldn’t give me an extension. The members of Book Club have annoyed me to say the least – but we press on. I am now reading The Beekeeper of Aleppo (nothing to do with book club) – already it is breaking my heart.

I was going to wait until after book club to write the review as I thought I could include some of the others’ thoughts and opinions. But they are very slim, so this will largely be me talking about how I found the book.

Without further ado –

Synopsis

The Khan is a fictional crime thriller set against the backdrop of a Northern town, but at the heart of it is a story about family; loyalty, betrayal and power. Akbar Khan – the head of the Jigra; a self appointed committee, sits at the seat of justice. He is head of a crime-syndicate and he controls the streets and the Pakistani communities. He has helped his community earn respect within the town that is otherwise riddled with racism. The Khan requires the utmost loyalty when it comes to his subjects however, if he is betrayed he makes no exceptions is dealing out justice – the ‘old way’. The ‘Pukhtun way’; often violent and bloody but always fair.

A few chapters in and the murder of Akbar Khan rips through the family, disorder sprawling out onto the streets; betrayal into the hearts of the families the Khan once controlled. In order to restore the Jigra and ‘Pukhtun Law’, his position as ‘Khan’ must be filled. The community need a new leader, a new head of the family. The only person worthy of such a title within the family, the community, the city is Jia Khan – the Khans eldest, estranged, daughter. A woman.

This goes against everything the Pukhtun communities believe in. It goes against years, almost centuries of tradition – a woman the head of the family business?

Jia Khan, a Lawyer, returns from London, leaving behind the world of law and order to sit at the throne of a different kind of Justice. One she had escaped, one that blurred boundaries and contradicted the law of the land. Jia soon learns that replacing her father in world where men make decisions and dish out punishment is no easy feat and even harder for a woman. However, in doing so we delve so much deeper into a family who are riddled with pain and trauma.

My Review

As well as the fact that the edges of the pages are splattered with blood and the cover is gold, black and red, I LOVED the story. I loved that it is a woman who becomes the head of the crime family. I loved that the book is filled with revenge, deception and treachery but more than anything I LOVE the fact that it is an Asian woman who jumps straight into the fire of crime and excels! She is different from any other character that I have ever read; cold, calculating and always calm. She has agency, she makes things happen. She is the driving force of the family at the height of their crime activity and it filled me with excitement and utter joy!

Often women from a South Asian background are seen as meek and timid. Often they are not educated and do not speak English, because the western world thinks that anyone who isn’t white isn’t educated, even if they are born and raised in a western country. My fellow brown women are almost always embroiled in some kind of forced arranged marriage or honour killing – like it is the only story that we have to offer the world. If women are second/third leads in many stories, Asian women are non existent and The Khan shakes the narrative completely, subverting it to make the female character central to all the criminal dealings. It made my heart sing.

Jia is the woman that most Asian women would love to play because she is powerful, she as a character is compelling and she is a sexy MOFO badass!!!

One of the criticisms that a couple of members of book club made (who had only just started it, mind) was that it wasn’t realistic enough. I guess in some parts it wasn’t, but it’s FICTION, so the comment is some what problematic – in my humble opinion. An Asian Crime Family – is realistic enough for me and I am happy to suspend disbelief for the sake of a thrilling story. I was invested from the start. It drew me in and I couldn’t put it down.

I also believe that half of book club wasn’t able to get on board because 1. They don’t read crime fiction and secondly… I do believe it is because their experience of Asian stories is limited – mostly to the points I made a few paragraphs above. The book is steeped in Pukhtun culture yet it is subverted. I wonder what they would have said if the writer had been white and the central character a white woman? The book examines racism and misogyny. Surely if we want to see strong female leads – we need to want this for everyone, and understand how important a book such as The Khan is. It is one of it’s kind – the first in leading the way to challenge and change perceptions surrounding South Asian narratives in literature and more importantly South Asian Women.

However – the work college that I leant my copy of The Khan to – the one who read it in a week? She is a much older, white woman. And she said – it was the best thing she had read in a long time.

Reading, like theatre or any kind of art, is subjective and is dependant so much on where you are in your head at the time of engaging – and so different people have different experiences. One this is for sure though, you cannot say The Khan is not an exhilarating read.

The Khan is powerful, immersive, dangerous and compelling and I am so glad, that after many years we are see such stories. That are not only brilliantly written with strong, clearly though out complex characters but also a fantastic read. A world that you can entre and get lost in! You can grab your copy from all major bookshops and Waterstones gives it 5/5, currently available at £12.99.

The Khan has made The Times Best crime book of the year and is longlisted for the Portico Prize 2021. We reckon that makes it well worth reading.

*Highly Recommended

T.B.C…


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