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Asghar and Zahra

Desmond Elliott Prize, 2020

Paperback / ISBN-13: 9781473697225

Price: £14.99

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Childhood friends Asghar and Zahra were born into the same British Muslim community in west London. But they grow up into very different people. Asghar is a shy boy nervous of stepping outside his family’s comfort zone, while Zahra is an ambitious woman who has just finished her degree at Cambridge.

The novel opens on their wedding day as friends and family wonder what could possibly have brought this odd couple together. After a comically disastrous honeymoon, painful secrets from the past throw the relationship further off-balance. And then there’s the sinister preacher taking a keen interest in them . . .

A funny, sympathetic and very human novel about the first year of a marriage, and the difficulties of reconciling the sometimes conflicting demands of family, religion and society, Asghar and Zahra is the debut of a striking new talent.

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A wonderful achievement; an invigorating reminder of the power fiction has to challenge lazy stereotypes, and stretch the reader's heart
Ian McEwan is a tempting comparison (the book has been described as On Chesil Beach for British Muslims) - but this is a funnier account with deeper roots
Daily Telegraph
A sparkling debut . . . a novel of charm and compassion
New Statesman
A tragicomic account of a doomed marriage . . . Rahim's wit propels the novel. Asghar and Zahra sends up everything from piety to quintessential 'Englishness' and casual Islamophobia
Literary Review
A fascinating read
Mail on Sunday
Funny and wise, and beautifully written
Colm Tóibín, New Statesman, Books of the Year