We’re delighted to be sharing Elena’s thoughts on This Green and Pleasant Land by Ayisha Malik on the Compulsive Readers tour.
The book begins with Bilal’s mother on her deathbed. As she dies she tells him her dying wish: that he build a mosque in the quintessentially British village he lives in, Babbel’s End. He’s neglected his Muslim faith, and can’t see how he can fulfil this until his grief gets the better of him and he feels increasingly compelled to carry out her wish. This feeling of unease grows stronger every day until he announces to everyone that he’s going to try and do it. He’s going to see if he can build a mosque in the village.
The residents are shocked. Some support him but others would move heaven and earth to make sure it doesn’t happen. He needs to raise the money to build it. His marriage to Mariam is full of problems, and his aunt Rukhsana who lived with his mother moves in with them from Birmingham. He has tried to fit in with his village residents, counting them as friends, but now he sees that his Muslim identity has never really been accepted by some of them and nasty racist letters and graffiti aimed at him and his family appear. Shelley, one of the residents, heads up the campaign to ensure it doesn’t happen by rallying around and whipping her followers into a frenzy. The villagers are opposed to the destruction of the Englishness and identity of Babbel’s End and as the argument intensifies, Bilal realises that this crusade of his could cost him his home, marriage and friendships. Is it worth it?
I honestly feel that this book is one of the best I’ve ever read. Its message is powerful.
At the root of This Green And Pleasant Land is the theme of identity and questions what it takes for someone to be truly accepted into a community. Bilal is English. He was born in England but why can’t he express his Pakistani cultural identity? Shelley whips up the other residents into a frenzy, demonstrating how hate and ignorance can create divisions. Why can’t he call Babbel’s End his home? What is ‘home’?
I detested Shelley. Despite her friendship with Rukhsana she’s an unhappy racist (although she’s adamant she isn’t) who is scared of what she doesn’t know. I couldn’t warm to her and her followers at all and I felt angry and disgusted with her for much of the story.
Bilal is a likeable, interesting character and I enjoyed reading about him and willed the problems in his marriage to resolve themselves, and for his mother’s dream for a mosque to be built to be realised.
My favourite though is Khala Rukhsana. I loved watching the development of her character. After moving in with Bilal she undergoes a wonderful transformation and seems to be the only one of all of them in the village that sees things clearly despite not speaking or understanding much English.
The author has created an astonishing book. The mix and depth of the characters are incredible. The contrast she creates between the utter Englishness of village life and rich culture of Bilal’s family is huge and her depiction of the characters and themes of racism, culture, identity, relationships, family, love and hate were breathtaking, heartbreaking and addictive.
I finished reading this and immediately investigated her other books such is the beauty of her writing and storytelling.
A five star read.
Ayisha is a British Muslim, lifelong Londoner, and lover of books. She read English Literature and went on to complete an MA in Creative Writing (though told most of her family it was an MA in English Literature – Creative Writing is not a subject, after all.) She has spent various spells teaching, photocopying, volunteering, editing and being a publicist. Join the Ayisha Malik Readers’ Club for all the latest news from Ayisha on her books, events and giveaways: www.bit.ly/AyishaMalik You can follow her on Twitter @Ayisha_Malik.