Monday, September 27, 2010

The English Harem by Anthony McCarten

Novelist and three times Booker finalist, Timothy Mo, named The English Harem, Novel Of The Year. For me, I don’t know what to make of this book. It can go either way.

First of all, I think anyone who wishes to read this has to be ready for it. You need to have an open mind and a romantic spirit. Otherwise, you might be offended or insulted. First there’s Tracy Pringle, who’s an only child to mum Monica and dad Eric. Tracy lost her job at the starting chapter and found a new job as a waitress in a vegetarian Persian restaurant ran by her Muslim boss, Saaman Sahar or otherwise known as Sam.

Tracy was introduced as being a dreamer intrigued by heroines and romances of the past especially from books and movies (Think Lawrence of Arabia, One Thousand and One Night and you get the drift). My take is that when she walked in on her boyfriend, Rick, bonking another girl, the poor girl probably couldn’t handle real life and takes her imagination up a level or two. Otherwise, I can’t really explain how she would want to be married to Sam knowing very well that he has 2 other wives (and about 4 children).  Sam at one point even acknowledge this fact - that Tracy sees their lives as being very surreal and it appeal to her as a dreamer.

Coming from an Asian environment or otherwise known as the East, I am aware that this practice of having multiply wives (max is 4) is very much alive in the Muslim culture. I am not familiar with Anthony McCarten and his background but I think he is writing this from a very one dimensional perspective and meant for it to be a light read.   Sam married his 2 earlier wives out of duty (1st wife is the widow of his elder brother) and 2nd wife out of guilt?  He could still takes care of his brother's widow without marrying her and likewise for the 2nd wife. 

What amazes me about this book was that the first two wives of Sam were happy with such arrangement and were the mastermind in persuading Sam to marry Tracy. What amazes me even more was that how Tracy bought into this idea and accepts it. Her parents had a difficult time dealing with it and I couldn’t blame them. I had a difficult time dealing with it. I was thinking of ditching it halfway through but for the sake of this review, I ploughed on. The ending is pretty mind blowing too!

Like I said, you need to be open with this one. Read it as you would watch a comedy film (the writting is quite funny at some point) and don’t think too much after that. If I go into the details of what I think of this book, this post would be very lengthy indeed. If you can’t be open with such concept or if thoughts of such practices rile you up, then, for your own good, I suggest you give this a miss.  Otherwise, enjoy!

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