Immigrants – and the ties that bind and divide

Review: Vivien Horler

The Halfways, by Nilopar Uddin (HQ/ HarperCollins)

My family came to South Africa from the UK when I was two, and all my life I’ve felt slightly torn, not quite South African and not quite British.

I’m grateful for my British passport, grateful I live in Cape Town, but I’ve never felt quite settled.

And this is one of the themes of The Halfways, focusing on a Bengali family who live in Wales, and the various ties that bind and separate them.

Nasrin and Sabrina are British-born sisters who grew up in Wales’s Brecon Beacons where their father Shamsur runs an Indian restaurant and pub. The parents came to England as immigrants, and while  Shamsur has more or less assimilated, mother Jahanara retains her ancestral ties and is a devout Muslim.

The daughters are brought up to be well-behaved and modest, but they know from annual summer holidays in Bangladesh how much freer they are than their cousin, Afroz, who lives in the old country in an unhappy arranged marriage.

Always feeling slightly alienated from British society, the sisters have made different lives for themselves from those of their parents; Nasrin, a former BA flight officer, marrying a white Australian and living in London with their small son, and Sabrina an extremely successful financial trader in New York.

Then one day comes the terrible news: Shamsur has died of a heart attack. As the sisters prepare to go home to Wales, Afroz’s father gives her a ticket to fly to the funeral – someone from Bangladesh should be there to represent the home country.

And so the family assembles, in great sadness, in what the sisters regard as their claustrophobic childhood village. And then comes the reading of the will when, to everyone’s enormous surprise, while Shamsur has left the family home to his widow, he has left the restaurant to Afroz.

Afroz! The sisters are bewildered, and so is Afroz. Sabrina is enraged. How had their cousin sneaked into their father’s affections to that extent? Especially since she doesn’t even live in Britain, has a deeply traditional husband, and knows nothing about running a restaurant.

Jahanara takes to her bed, Nasrin and Afroz try to keep a semblance of pleasantness for the sake of everyone else, and a furious Sabrina sneaks home to New York before the three-day prayers and without saying goodbye to her family.

Everyone is torn apart.

Back home, Sabrina’s stellar career is facing a setback in connection with a trade that might have contravened the law, and the stress of it all has caused a recurrence of  Nasrin’s seizures, Jahanara is still closeted in her room from which the entire family can hear her wails, and the only person who seems relatively happy is Afroz, who has found a new vocation as a chef in the restaurant.

But her husband back in Bangladesh thinks it is time she came home.

This is a glorious family saga of family love and fury, jealousy and retribution, and quite a few sudden shocks.

I loved it.

  • This was one of Exclusive Books’s top picks for September,


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