Finding Mr Perfectly Fine by Tasneem Abdur – Rashid
Finding the right romantic partner is never easy, but in this funny and fascinating novel Zara is coming under a lot of pressure. She is twenty nine, and her mother is threatening to send her from London to Bengal to find a husband if she is not married by her thirtieth birthday. Family and cultural expectations clash with Zara’s mainly happy life in this brilliantly written novel which is narrated in her honest, bewildered voice as she struggles to decide what is sufficient for a happy married life.
I found this book worked for me on several levels including the story of Zara as a young woman engaged in her job, family and friends who has to negotiate another hurdle, and the internal debate about what is truly necessary for the happily ever after which her mother and other relatives want for her. It overturns expectations in many ways and challenges things like the culture of social drinking, while being solidly down to earth in the perils of late nights, the question of what to wear and the distractions of social media. This book’s greatest strength lies in its cast of characters, ranging from the determined mother to the work colleagues who have so much influence on Zara’s thoughts. There is the quiet Nani who quietly takes Zara’s side, as well as a whole group of female relatives who alternatively support Zara and make her life more complicated. Zara describes her mother “I’m lumbered with a mum that is the worst of both my worlds; tech savvy and cynical like a Western mum, but still clinging on to old traditions like the village mum she claims she isn’t.” Needless to say Zara and her mother clash, most significantly over the hunt for a husband that her mother claims is all she needs for happiness, while Zara has reservations.
This book is very informative on the ways a traditional family seeks to arrange a match, with “biodata” being eagerly circulated by older family members and contacts, networking events and a Muslim marriage app. There are possibilities from each one for Zara, but they all have their advantages and disadvantages for her. Hamza, for example, is kind, responsible and seemingly perfect, but Zara cannot feel much chemistry, or the elusive spark that really attracts her. The problem seems to be that it is not always the one who seems perfect on paper that she feels something for, but can she really carry on ignoring all the pressure to actually decide?
There are so many elements of this book that drew me in and kept me interested, the small details of Zara’s life which can assume enormous proportions, the setting of London with all its contrasts, the presence of such memorable as her sisters whose support against the world is unquestioning, even if they are very different. The dialogue throughout is so realistic, with family debates held at high volume and the reported messages via text and online having the ring of truth. I recommend this debut novel strongly, as it has a genuinely fascinating voice at the centre, has natural humour, and is such an honest story of life, love and family pressure.