Best of Friends by Kamila Shamsie
UK Publication: September 2022
Reviewed by: Book Worm
This ARC was provided by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC UK (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis from Goodreads: A dazzling new novel of friendship, identity and the unknowability of other people – from the international bestselling author of Home Fire, winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction
Fourteen-year-old Maryam and Zahra have always been the best of friends, despite their different backgrounds. Maryam takes for granted that she will stay in Karachi and inherit the family business; while Zahra keeps her desires secret, and dreams of escaping abroad.
This year, 1988, anything seems possible for the girls; and for Pakistan, emerging from the darkness of dictatorship into a bright future under another young woman, Benazir Bhutto. But a snap decision at a party celebrating the return of democracy brings the girls’ childhoods abruptly to an end. Its consequences will shape their futures in ways they cannot imagine.
Three decades later, in London, Zahra and Maryam are still best friends despite living very different lives. But when unwelcome ghosts from their shared past re-enter their world, both women find themselves driven to act in ways that will stretch and twist their bond beyond all recognition.
Best of Friends is a novel about Britain today, about power and how we use it, and about what we owe to those who’ve loved us the longest.
My Thoughts: This is really a book of two halves the first half focussing on Maryam and Zahra in Pakistan was fascinating, I loved the insights into the protected world of privilege versus the danger of being a young woman is a male orientated culture. I even appreciated the idea of cricket commentator as national treasure and the risks that come with being high profile and not toeing the official line, but what I really loved in this section was the friendship between the girls, the way they protect each other and the way they fail each other, the way their backgrounds are similar and also completely different.
The book then jumps forward several years and the setting changes to England where Maryam and Zahra are now both very different women with very different but powerful jobs and are still friends. This half didn’t work so well for me. While I appreciated the political commentary about the treatment of refugees and about the corruption of politics the friendship had lost its joy and the characters made decision that didn’t seem to fit with the girls we had known as teenagers.
The ending was also a bit bizarre and I am not sure what Shamsie was trying to tell the reader with this.
Who would like this? Read this if you want an insight into life in 1988 Pakistan for young women or if you want a viewpoint on the plight of refugees in England in the modern day and how the corruption in politics affects the whole refugee process as well as daily living for everyone in the country.
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