Review: The World Unseen, Shamim Sarif

shamim-sarif A Vision of Indian Life and Taboo in South Africa

This is a finely woven tale with a magical sense of place, atmosphere and character, set in 1950s South Africa during the time of apartheid’s most stringent race laws. Arriving in South Africa from India, shy Miriam and her unapproachable husband seek a better life in Delhof for their children. They set up a general store in a remote area, and soon Miriam is wrapped up in a mundane existence without a smile, without much pleasure and love, except for that of her children.

Meanwhile, fiercely independent Amina is determined to break with tradition and not marry for the sake of her family’s name. She runs her own businesses with a gentle and wise Coloured man, Jacob, and often clashes with the local police. When Miriam and Amina’s paths cross in the gossip-ridden and scandal prone Indian community of Pretoria, events are set in motion that will put Miriam on a path of personal awakening that leads to an eventual confrontation with her dogmatic husband.

Shamim Sarif, born in the UK, and of South African decent, won the Betty Trask Award and Pendleton May First Novel Award with this glowing debut. Although the book begins slowly, Sarif has proven herself adept at patiently layering a complex narrative with vivid characters and subtle plot twists. She has a rare gift of bringing alive sensuous undertones and the intricacies of body language in her narration. I was a bit puzzled by her Afrikaans characters’ strange use of Ja all the time, but let’s not fuss about peculiarities. Definitely a book I would recommend and an author who has convinced me to pick up an even better second book, Despite the Falling Snow .

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2 Responses to “Review: The World Unseen, Shamim Sarif”

  1. Loved the novel. And the film is great too

  2. The book was great, but for me Despite the Falling Snow was even better. The writing was even tighter, and there was a genuine sense of urgency and impending tragedy that drove the story onwards at a pace that smacked of a thriller. I am ashamed to admit that even though I interviewed Shamim about the book and film, and I also know the producer who eventually helped her bring it all together, I haven’t yet seen it.

    My bad. Thanks for reminding me to get it 🙂

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