Thursday 27 July 2023

CBR15 Book 33: "Hana Khan Carries On" by Uzma Jalaluddin

Page count: 358 pages
Rating: 4 stars

CBR15 Bingo: On the Air

Official book description:
Sales are slow at Three Sisters Biryani Poutine, the only halal restaurant in the close-knit Golden Crescent neighborhood. Hana waitresses there part time, but what she really wants is to tell stories on the radio. If she can just outshine her fellow intern at the city radio station, she may have a chance at landing a job. In the meantime, Hana pours her thoughts and dreams into a podcast, where she forms a lively relationship with one of her listeners. But soon she'll need all the support she can get: a new competing restaurant, a more upscale halal place, is about to open in the Golden Crescent, threatening Three Sisters.

When her mysterious aunt and her teenage cousin arrive from India for a surprise visit, they draw Hana into a long-buried family secret. A hate-motivated attack on their neighborhood complicates the situation further, as does Hana's growing attraction for Aydin, the young owner of the rival restaurant--who might not be a complete stranger after all.

As life on the Golden Crescent unravels, Hana must learn to use her voice, draw on the strength of her community and decide what her future should be.

Uzma Jalaluddin's first novel, Ayesha at Last, was a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, set in Canada with Muslim protagonists. This novel has strong elements of You've Got Mail, where the heroine and hero have built a friendship (and maybe more) via messages in response to Hana's podcast. The love interest just happens to be the handsome, rich guy who sweeps in with a rival operation, threatening to put our humble heroine's family business out of business for good. No bookshops here, but rather halal restaurants. Also, while Aydin's family is wealthy, he's nowhere near as rich and unscrupulous as Tom Hanks' character (seriously, I have never liked You've Got Mail since the first time I saw it, the older I get, and the more I subscribe to Kill the Rich, the more unattractive Tom Hanks' character gets). Yet this plot is so beloved and so frequently retold. 

Jalaluddin introduces a subplot in her story that has nothing to do with the movie she's taken inspiration from, however, it's one of the things that makes this book really interesting and gives the reader further insight into a culture that at least to me is quite unfamiliar. Hana's auntie is extremely glamourous and opinionated and has clearly lived a very different life than a Muslim woman from her generation may have been expected to live. She gives Hana several pieces of sage advice, and it turns out that she's harbouring secrets that may impact several characters in the story in unexpected ways. 

The novel doesn't shy away from the racism that causes problems for both Hana's mother's restaurant and the one Aydin is starting. Without it becoming too heavy a subplot, it's nevertheless refreshing that the author doesn't pretend that minority groups still don't face difficulties with acceptance in majority white communities, even in a progressive country like Canada. 

I've enjoyed both the novels I've read by Jalaluddin, and her third novel is apparently a modern take on Persuasion, so I'm already looking forward to seeing how she interprets that story through a new lens. 

Judging a book by its cover: While the cover image doesn't exactly look like the no-nonsense, very pragmatic heroine this book features (it's far too ethereal and impressionistic for that), I nonetheless like the colour choices and find the soft lines pleasing to the eye. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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