If you haven’t yet discovered the pleasure of laughing out loud in a quiet room full of people variously watching TV and/or poking away on their devices, then Poppadom Preach would be a fine place to start. You’re guaranteed to have people interrogating you about what’s so funny, and equally as guaranteed not to be able to tell them without looking like a sadistic bastard.
Because Poppadom Preach, at its core, is about family violence. It’s about the scars that parents leave on their children, both physical and emotional – certainly no laughing matter. The story is told from the perspective of Dilly Shah, a first generation British-Pakistani girl who is a spitfire as bright, fearless and imaginative as she is stubborn. Raised in Bradford in the 1970s in a predominantly migrant community, she rebels (silently, for the most part) against her parents who are determined to give her and her four siblings a traditional upbringing. Dilly is one of those characters that, as a parent, you’d describe as a handful. On the surface she’s hardwork – nevermind the added complexity of the fact she is constantly traversing two languages and (often competing) cultures.
But because we’re privy to Dilly’s internal monologues you can only but feel heartache for her. She longs to feel the glow of her mother’s attention even just once. She wishes for her father’s approval, or at the very least, to live in his presence without the fear of his closed fists reigning down on anyone and everyone who defies him. The household is a powderkeg where siblings are rivals at best, outright enemies at worst. Her parents openly disdain each other and yet blindly pursue arranged marriages for their children in the same image as their own. Education for the girls is essentially a holding pen until then. Dilly’s escapades and schemes provide fertile ground for injecting humour, as do her interactions with her siblings, aunt, mother and neighbours, all who present with their own unique quirks. With the story pounding on at breakneck speed, it takes awhile before you realise that the infusion of humour in amongst so much tragedy is intensely uncomfortable.
In a good way. In a way that says: “I’m getting this. This stuff would be too painful to talk about otherwise. Nothing has been minimised, everything has been illuminated”. I can’t understand other reviewers who have given this book solid-to-excellent reviews based on the density of the subject matter but docked stars because Khan made them laugh at the same time. As if the only way to acknowledge the hardships of a brutal childhood is to beat someone else over the head with a paperback.
I disagree with those reviewers. Almas Khan is an absolute talent, and when her book finished (all too abruptly) I felt like my best friend had just stood up and left the room to put the jug on (the book ends with Dilly on her way to Pakistan to get married, and the words “…but that, so they say, is another story”.) So Almas, if you are reading this, our tea is brewed, I’m ready for my next installment.