Khurrum Rahman’s excellent debut novel, East Of Hounslow manages a near impossible feat—he writes about Islamic terrorism with a clear-headed, balanced approach, diluting the inevitable violence with humour, but not mincing his words.
He creates a memorable protagonist in Javid “call me Jay” Qasim, who lives in London, and is proud of being so assimilated, that no cops ever pulls him over. He has no great objections to being called Paki because he knows what the ignorant racist whites don’t—that it means pure. He looks down his nose the shalwar-wearing louts in his community and goes to the mosque once a week, just to prove his Muslim credentials.
A smalltime drug dealer, he lives with his widowed mother, who is completely against the stereotype of the pious Muslim woman, and soon after the book opens, she flies off to with her British boyfriend, leaving the shattered Jay alone.
The neighbourhood mosque is vandalized, and Jay helps clean up because he happens to be there; he also gets pulled into a revenge act of violence, only to protect his childhood friend, the naïve and impressionable Parvez, from the likes of Khan Abdul and his thick-headed cohorts. In the melee, his new BMW is trashed, and a bag full of drugs to sell and money he owes his boss, Silas, are stolen. Before he knows it, his life is on a quick downward spiral.
Through the words put in the mouth of Jay, Rahman presents a remarkably accurate and honest picture of the Islamic world today, and slams terrorism while also emphasizing that a majority of Muslims are peace-loving, and all mosques are not breeding grounds of jihad. Like the others of his community Jay does not think that his friend Idris, who is a cop, is a sellout; still, when Khan berates him for not standing by his people, Jay understands his point of view.
Suddenly, the tone of the book turns dark, as Jay is threatened by Silas’s goons if he does not cough up the money owed, and a school-bombing in Canada deeply affects the happy-go-lucky bloke. It’s the time for MI5’s Kinsgley Parker to recruit him as an undercover agent to keep an eye on extremist activity in the Muslim-dominated area.
It would be a spoiler to give out more of the plot, but it does take a couple of Bollywood-like twists. The book is as thought-provoking, as it is entertaining-- which is a fine combination for a thriller. More Jay Qasim books are promised (so there is a future twist in the tale, if th ending is to be believed), and one would look forward to them.
East Of Hunslow
By Khurrum Rahman
Publisher: Harper Collins