Monday, November 29, 2021

Things We Don’t Tell People We Love is a lush debut from Huma Qureshi

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These are lyrical, moving stories about family and intimate relationships, from warlike mothers and daughters to unequal lovers

Qureshi is a skilled hand at pulling the rug from under the reader’s feet. Her haunting, poignant stories – mostly written in subtle prose – often have a stab in history, blending scenes of exuberant beauty and romance (many of the stories set in the sultry heat of a summer vacation) with arguments, misunderstandings, grief, and accidents.

In “Premonition” – the first short story and one of the best in Huma Qureshi’s lavish debut collection – a woman recalls a teenage infatuation. She tells how, at the age of 15, she fell in love with the son of a family friend who made her heart spin “like a paper windmill”. After Qureshi has masterfully conjured up the vertigo of first love, Qureshi steers the story in a darker direction: When the narrator is finally alone with her crush, he kisses and gropes her roughly and leaves her “shaken as if you had taken something from me” ” .

The author, a former journalist, published the memoir earlier this year How we metabout going against her Pakistani parents’ expectations by marrying a white British man. Her new book also explores intimate relationships, from bellicose mothers and daughters to unequal lovers and bubbly friendships.

Many of the characters are British-Pakistani women, and Qureshi skillfully explores the tensions that can arise when two cultures cross. “The Jam Maker” is about a girl who despises her mother for uprooting her from her happy parents to a part of the city with a larger Asian community. And in “Small Differences” the young woman Tasneem is unsettled about the culture war between her and her boyfriend while she is on vacation with his family in Tuscany.

With commendable subtlety, Qureshi uses the subject of cultural dissonance as a stepping stone to a more comprehensive view of the emotional distance between her characters. For example, Tasneem’s story is about how visiting a partner with their family – and realizing that much of their life was lived without you – can raise questions about how well we really know those we love.

The best stories in the book crackle with dramatic irony, as Qureshi depicts protagonists with a painful lack of self-confidence. In my favorite track “Too Much”, radio producer Shaheen doesn’t understand how “best friend, not just mother and daughter” with her daughter Amal could have had a negative impact. The tension between them grows so heartbreakingly that I almost called my own mother for consolation.

Even “Foreign Parts” about a man who doesn’t like the change in his fiancée when visiting her family in Lahore skilfully conveys his thoughtlessness about her feeling of strangeness in London.

In some places, Qureshi exaggerates it a little. A man who dies on the day his partner planned to deliver critical news in “Superstitious” feels sentimental. Likewise, the bloodthirsty end of “Summer” borders on implausible.

Overall, however, I fell for this lyrical, moving collection and the foggy intensity that permeates many of its stories. Qureshi creates gripping storylines and vivid characters and – most importantly – she is a writer with something to say. She is currently working on her first novel: With a little luck, I will be able to read it on a sun lounger next year.

Things we don’t tell the people we love is released by Scepter, for £ 16.99

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