Title: This Green And Pleasant Land
Author: Ayisha Malik
Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
Publication Date: June 13th 2019
Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟
Accountant Bilal Hasham and his journalist wife, Mariam, plod along contentedly in the sleepy, chocolate box village they’ve lived in for eight years.
Then Bilal is summoned to his dying mother’s bedside in Birmingham. Sakeena Hasham is not long for this world but refuses to leave it until she ensures that her son remembers who he is: a Muslim, however much he tries to ignore it. She has a final request. Instead of whispering her prayers in her dying moments, she instructs Bilal to go home to his village, Babbels End, and build a mosque.
Mariam is horrified. The villagers are outraged. How can a grieving Bilal choose between honouring his beloved mum’s last wish and preserving everything held dear in the village he calls home?
But it turns out home means different things to different people.
Battle lines are drawn and this traditional little community becomes the colourful canvas on which the most current and fundamental questions of identity, friendship, family and togetherness are played out.
What makes us who we are, who do we want to be, and how far would we go to fight for it?
Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review!
“IN ORDER TO FIT IN, WE OFTEN HAVE TO HIDE, OR APOLOGISE FOR, CERTAIN PRACTICES, AND BECOME A DIGESTIBLE KIND OF MUSLIM.”
This Green And Pleasant Land is a brutally honest, hopeful and humorous story that examines the complexities surrounding British-Muslim identity. Because, too often, we are made to feel as if these two things can’t coexist, though no one ever questions whether you can be Christian and British at the same time. The book really sheds light on how we, as part of the diaspora, are always expected to integrate into Western society by accepting another culture at the expense of detaching ourselves from our own personal beliefs and practices.
The third person omniscient narrator follows many of the residents in Babbel’s End, a predominantly white Christian village in the English countryside with the exception of the Hasham’s. Bilal, Mariam and Haris have always been the model citizens of Babbel’s End. In order to fit in, the Hasham’s have shown that they are capable of integrating and assimilating into society by withholding expression of their South Asian and Muslim identity. That is, until Bilal proposes to build a mosque in the village and the residents are forced to question and confront their own beliefs in order to choose which side they stand on. And it’s a debate that really hits close to home. Because even though we are born British, we will never be British enough.
At times, the multiple perspectives did get confusing as there were so many characters and backstories to remember. However, the author does a great job in fleshing out each of these characters and giving them a purpose in the story to the extent of making us empathise with certain characters whose extreme views may not necessarily align with our own.
Ultimately, despite the growing tensions that push the community apart, this book demonstrates how we all have an innate ability to look beyond our internal biases and share an emotional connection with another human being regardless of any differences. Irrespective of age, gender, sexuality, race, religion, class and even language, it shows how love truly transcends all barriers.
Overall, the novel asks the question of what it really means to be British? It challenges us to think about our own identities, where we belong and how much we are willing to sacrifice when it comes to the freedom to express ourselves. And, as Ayisha Malik notes in a letter addressed to her readers, it “leaves you feeling a bit more optimistic about the uniting force of humanity.”