Review: The Khan, by Saima Mir
I wanted to like this book - I really, really did; the premise was brilliant and so engaging! - but the book just fell... a bit flat.
As mentioned, it's an exciting premise - it's a retelling of The Godfather (which, yes, I admit that I have not seen; but also it's such a seminal film that I know the story without having to ever actually watch it, I think) but set in an unnamed city in Yorkshire and telling the story of a turf war between a Pakistani crime ring and a Polish gang. There's a lot folded into this, including the societal pressures and consequences of Jia (our main, female, character) being the one to take over the crime ring; and the complexities of family dynamics; and there are a lot of really interesting ways the novel could have gone and developed, but ultimately I think it got let down by some immature storytelling.
The main thing I noticed is that the writing was just a bit too try-hardy. Every single paragraph appeared to be trying to hit the themes of the novel, in ways that made the dialogue feel clunky and exposition-heavy and took away from the narrative thread because we were being told, yet again, that honour is the most important thing. For these men, their women are their honour. Honour is so important. You can't do that it's not honourable. Honourable men keep their word and you know, we are people of honour. Jesus wept, Saima, I get it. Honour is one of your themes. You can stop now. All of the politics of this novel - which, for what it's worth, are politics I agree with wholeheartedly - were being crammed into so many scenes and conversations that they were extraneous to, or being layered on over and over and over again, long after we'd gotten the point, so much that even I was rolling my eyes. There is such a thing as overegging a cake. Too much was overt, not enough was subtext, and it just felt too much like a sociology lesson in parts.
The pacing was also really off - some of what I thought should have been an important sequence of events, or at least big climactic moments, were either completely glossed over or 'montaged' (you know, like film montages that are used to indicate time passing). The big reveal, that Jia was plotting all along to kill her father and take over his empire, was sandwiched in with another big reveal that felt A) completely extraneous to the plot and B) came out of completely fucking nowhere and also happened about 6 pages before the end of the novel, which meant that we had no time to sit with it and process it and absolutely no time to see and learn and experience what the repercussions were.
The stakes were also very low throughout the entirety of the novel, which is wild in a novel about what is basically a turf between two horrifically brutal organized crime rings. Somehow all of the main characters survived, and ended up in happy loving relationships, and even fully recovered from horrific torture sessions with no lasting physical or emotional trauma? Such low stakes just meant that momentum never had a chance to build, my emotional energies were never engaged, and I felt like I was watching someone play a video game rather than reading a novel that was supposed to keep me on the edge of my seat.
The characterization wasn't amazing throughout the novel, either - Jia was very one-note, as were all the supporting characters; the dialogue never felt realistic, but rather started to grate by about page 200; and what personality-building did occur was told rather than shown (a lot of other characters describing the main character, and that being taken as her personality, rather than the reader being given the chance to make up their own minds by watching Jia go about her life and make her choices). And there was absolutely no growth whatsoever - every single character ended the novel in the exact same place they started it, making the same choices and thinking the same things, just being slightly more smug and self-important about it. Which I suppose is growth of a certain sense?
Long story short (which is a Taylor Swift song that has grown on me, much has the entirety of the Evermore album, anyway that's a separate conversation), I think this book had a lot of promise, it just - for me - did not deliver on it. I can see why and how this story would work for other readers. I love the idea of re-centering mob stories on communities that are treated as extras in those stories; this maybe just isn't the best example of the genre.