Good Intentions by Kasim Ali – Review
By Sandra Callard
Kasim Ali has come up with one of the most beautifully written, sensitive and absorbing novels I have read for a long, long time. Set in modern day middle England, it concerns a group of young people as they live, laugh and struggle with university, their parents, their love lives and racism. This seems pretty much a recurring theme, but this book knocks that on the head with a sledge hammer. There is no fighting or wild tempers. The people concerned in an emotional situation are educated, kind and have loving families. but the tension is there and it steadily escalates.
The young man, Nur, from a conservative Pakistani immigrant family falls in love with Yasmina, a young girl also from an immigrant family from Sudan. Yasmina is strong, clever and funny and she falls for Nur in return, but Nur is afraid to tell his parents that Yasmina is black. The rarely explored racism between people of colour but of differing nationalities, and the problems that arise through this, are gripping and emotional. The differing ways in which Nur and Yasmina deal with the various racial problems between the families are completely fascinating and totally real and believable, even though Nur and Yasmina are perfectly normal young students, working hard to make their parents proud of them. The situations that happen and the choices they make will affect the rest of their lives.
The author writes the stories of Nur and Yasmina in a unique but complicated way, as the chapters are headed by a yearly date, which can be some years before or after the previous chapter. They all relate to some part of the overall story, but the sudden change of date is quite unsettling at first. Eventually it becomes acceptable, as the glimpses of situations that occurred in the earlier lives of the characters can shine some light on, and quickly become adaptable to, the later story. The book becomes steadily more interesting and compulsive as it proceeds.
The pairing of Nur and Yasmina is one of the most real and welcoming relationships I have read recently in fiction. Their love affair is beautifully portrayed, not in an overdone and excessive way, but in an entirely understandable and heart-warming fashion. But problems arise through the more conservative family of Nur and the subsequent actions of all concerned.
This author has a tight and steady hand in his projection of the characters in this story. They are so real that you could be forgiven for feeling this is a story, with all its wonder and upset, concerning some members of your own family. You feel their pain and wish them well, and it is purely in the distinctive and creative way that Kasim Ali has assembled his characters that has made them truly an original and approachable set of people who you would be glad to know.
This is a brave and engrossing story, told in a realistic and honest way, and Kasim Ali’s book is a remarkable and emotional debut.
‘Good Intentions’ by Kasim Ali is published by HarperCollins, £14.99 hardback