'Good Intentions' by Kasim Ali
So ... wow. This one was a gut punch.
Nur is a good Pakistani son, one who agonizes over making his parents proud and setting a good example for his younger brother and sister. Part of being a good son means staying close to home, getting a suitable career and eventually meeting and marrying a suitable (i.e. Pakistani, and of the same caste and religion) girl. But instead Nur meets Yasmina. And from the first moment he sees her, something stirs inside him, assuring him that she will become someone important in his life. And boy does she ever. Their chemistry is instantaneous and the socially awkward and chronically anxious Nur finds that with Yasmina he can be his best self. It helps that she's Muslim as well, but it isn't enough. Because Yasmina is Sudanese and even being Muslim will not overcome Nur's parents' objections to him being with a Black girl.
Despite this, Nur and Yasmina's relationship grows, deepens and flourishes. In secret. Still, he is absolutely convinced she is the one, the only woman for him ... if he can just tell his parents about her.
The male perspective on duty, family and culture and the ways love can sometimes come into conflict with those things is not something you get to read every day. In fiction it's usually the woman who is so swept away by passion that she contemplates turning her back on everything dear to her for a lover. Under what circumstances might a man do this? What might his fears and struggles be? And will he overcome them? I loved reading about Nur grappling with competing loyalties and come to reckon with racism, colorism and the sometimes overwhelming weight of cultural norms that can confuse you about whether the choices you make are even your own. I was happy for and frustrated with and angry at Nur while he tried to reconcile what felt like competing parts of his life; and I also felt for Yasmina, as she patiently waited for him to integrate her into all parts of his life.
I also loved the very rich and multi-dimensional secondary characters. There were more than a few of them, but somehow each was distinct and essential to understanding Nur and his approach to his relationship with Yasmina. Their stories, as much as Nur and Yasmina's story felt like worthwhile emotional investments. Finally, I appreciated this author's prose--it was beautiful, but also clear, simple and accessible. This is for me, the best kind of contemporary fiction--compellingly addressing social issues in a way that neither trivializes nor makes them too heavy.
Recommended. So glad I stumbled across this one. I have a feeling there'll be more good stuff to come from this writer.
My rating: ⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑
Buy the book:Good Intentions: A Novel https://amzn.to/3mHuVSq