Two students meet and fall in love, but their very different backgrounds present a huge challenge to their relationship.
Lina is a British Muslim, the daughter of middle class Indian parents, brought up in Birmingham. She cares passionately about making a better society and about human rights, and she is religious. Anil is from a very wealthy privileged Kenyan Asian family, and has been brought up nominally Sikh but belief is not very fundamental to him. While studying in London, Anil and his friends have enjoyed a hedonistic lifestyle.
This is a long book at just over 500 pages, but I found it a really quick read, as I wanted to know what would happen to Lina and Anil. I found all the characters, even the ones I disliked, quite convincing, and I was carried along by the story. Looking back, I can see a lot of faults in the novel but it was a terrifically engaging good read.
The story is framed by a present day story set some years later. At the beginning, Anil is waiting to meet Lina after not seeing her for some years. So when we see their relationship, we already know it is threatened. Why have they not seen each other for so long, and what will come of them meeting up again?
I found Lina a more sympathetic character than Anil and his obnoxious friend Merc, with her principles, her concern for her family and her wish to help people. She sometimes does seem a bit naïve and I don't really share her belief in the United Nations as a way of doing good, but I like her passion for human rights and her desire to actively work to challenge the dodgy antics of the arms trade in Africa and beyond.
Anil's very privileged upbringing has made him rather arrogant. He takes it for granted that people will fall in with his ideas and he doesn't understand Lina's anxieties about hurting her family. It is hard to see at times what makes him such a romantic hero for her, but obviously he has a certain charm.
Of the other characters, the sarcastic, unfriendly Merc, who hopes that Anil and Lina will realise it can never work out and split up, offered a figure to enjoy hating in the story. I quite liked Lina's friend Hans who is researching the illegal arms trade in Africa. The most interesting secondary characters though are the parents, especially Lina's father Shareef.
One of the ways Basil keeps her story exciting over such a long novel is to move it around the world as Lina takes up internships in Kenya and New York City. Even though I am really quite cynical, I was caught up with Lina's excitement at possibly for helping refugee communities. However, there is not much in this story about how ordinary Kenyans live, as Anil and his friend come from such a wealthy background, and he is able to travel by plane quite impulsively as few British people could do.
Lina and Anil's story is padded out with scenes told from the viewpoints of other characters, particularly those of her parents.
Through the novel, there are a number of letters written in the 1960s about another relationship across cultures. Who wrote them, who were they intended for and how do they relate to the main story? What does this additional storyline add to the main plot? I am not totally sure of the answers to some of these questions, and think that Basil could have written a more tightly focused novel. However, I did really enjoy reading it and will read more by this author.
I had seen this book in a bookshop and thought it looked interesting but it was still in trade paperback so I decided to look out for a cheaper edition, as I find trade paperbacks heavy to carry around and awkward to read and store. So I was very happy to find a free copy in exchange for a review via the Transworld Reading Challenge.
This review has previously appeared under my username on other websites including www.curiousbookfans.co.uk.