Salma, a young Muslim asylum-seeker who flees to Britain from the threat of an honour killing, keeps looking up the word “adapt” in the Oxford English Dictionary. Its definition – “to fit, adjust, change” – is the challenge posed to Salma in this emotionally forceful third novel. Considerable tension and tragedy are created by her failure to do just this: she fails to adapt not only physically (to digest her first taste of English fish and chips), but also temporally – to live in the present moment without painful intrusion from an unresolved past.
The novel opens as Salma works as a seamstress in Exeter, with her black Bedouin burqa tucked away, like her past, in a suitcase. However, the inexorable pull of emotional ties drives the plot, unravelling the past with devastating effect, leading her back to the mud village she has abandoned, as she yearns to be reunited with the illegitimate daughter who was snatched from her immediately after her birth on a prison floor.
Fadia Faqir skilfully weaves moral complexity with suspense. It is a shame that the author has a proclivity for cliché and excessive lyricism, because, like the writers Mukhtar Mai and Leila Aboulela, she rigorously explores the fraught concept of honour.