A huge thanks to the author Awais Khan and Danielle @_DanielleLouis_ for organising this tour and @a_hogston and Isis Audio for aa audio copy of this novel in exchange for an unbiased review.
In the glittering world of Pakistan’s elite, all is not what it seems…
Mona has almost everything: money, friends, social status… everything except for freedom. Languishing in her golden cage, she craves a sense of belonging…
Desperate for emotional release, she turns to a friend who introduces her to a world of glitter, glamour, covert affairs and drugs. There she meets Ali, a physically and emotionally wounded man, years younger than her.
Heady with love, she begins a delicate game of deceit that spirals out of control and threatens to shatter the deceptive facade of conservatism erected by Lahori society, and potentially destroy everything that Mona has ever held dear.
In the Company of Strangers is such a difficult novel to define using only categories and simple terms. For me, it showed a stark, harsh contrast between the rich and elite members of society in Lahore, the secret life of the elite and the heartache that people can go through no matter what their wealth or social class. For me this novel had elements that reminded me of Jackie Collins on the surface, but it ran so much deeper by developing characters and the setting with much more depth and meaning.
Mona has it all. The house, money, rich husband and everything she wants at her fingertips – except she is unhappy and disillusioned. Desperate to receive some positive attention from husband Bilal and to feel a sense of purpose, she forms a relationship with Ali, a younger man from a completely different life to hers. The narrative switches between Mona and Ali and I enjoyed looking at the events from two different perspectives.
Mona is a complex character and not always likeable but I felt a lot of empathy towards her. She is far more than the superficial and materialistic character portrayed in the earlier chapters and I think when getting to know her, it’s important to remember the culture and society she lives in and how this has shaped her choices in life. Ali is even more complex. He becomes torn between his family and his nature, drawn into unimaginable and life changing things. Whilst Mona’s insecurities and vulnerabilities are revealed very early, Ali’s story is revealed at a slower pace. Each new reveal of his character and personal story is a gently placed jigsaw piece to creating a while character. Each discovery is a surprising aspect and moves towards creating a vivid and fully developed character. The main protagonists are heavily flawed, vulnerable but endearing and I became completely and utterly invested in their relationship and journey together, and apart. I wanted to make things right for them both and guide them to a happier life.
Khan captures both the wealthy and poor side of life in Pakistan so well. Both aspects are equally beautiful and mesmerising in their own way. I was captivated by each description of the different lives and the setting surrounding it. His vivid words created waves of emotion in me. I was left stunned and speechless by the wealth and luxury but left humbled and appreciative of the other side of life and the daily struggle but also warmed by families and communities working together.
The narrator, Esh Alladi, brings the characters to life. His voice was soothing to listen to but also portrayed every emotion the characters felt. It really was like being in their heads.
In The Company of Strangers is an eye opening, at times uncomfortable read. The writing is enticing and captivating and at times, I wanted to look away but couldn’t bring myself to leave the characters behind. It’s a difficult book to summarise without delving into spoilers but I highly recommend it.
Awais Khan is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario and Durham University. He is also an alum of Faber Academy. He teaches creative writing in Pakistan as part of the Writing Institute and has delivered lectures at Durham University, American University of Dubai, Canadian University of Dubai to name a few. He has appeared on BBC World Service, Dubai Eye, Voice of America, City42, Cambridge Radio, Samaa TV, Indus TV, PTV Home and several other radio and TV channels. His work has appeared in The Aleph Review, The Hindu, The Missing Slate etc.
He is the author of In the Company of Strangers (published by Simon & Schuster, The Book Guild and Isis Audio) and No Honour (published by Orenda Books in Summer 2021). He is represented by Annette Crossland.
Esh Alladi is an actor who trained at LAMDA and has a wide range of stage experience. His theatre credits include: Hobson’s Choice (Royal Exchange), Rutherford and Son (Crucible Theatre), Absolute Hell (National Theatre) and Twelfth Night (Royal Shakespeare Company). Esh is also no stranger to the screen and some of his TV credits include: Anthony (BBC), Unprecedented (BBC), A Confession (ITV), Casualty (BBC), Frankie (BBC) and EastEnders (BBC). He won a UK Theatre Award in 2019 for Best Supporting Performance for his role in Hobson’s Choice.
Check out the upcoming novel (June 2021) from Awais Khan, published by Orenda – No Honor!
A young woman defies convention in a small Pakistani village, with devastating results for her and her family. A stunning, immense beautiful novel about courage, family and the meaning of love, when everything seems lost…
In sixteen-year-old Abida’s small Pakistani village, there are age-old rules to live by, and her family’s honour to protect. And, yet, her spirit is defiant and she yearns to make a home with the man she loves.
When the unthinkable happens, Abida faces the same fate as other young girls who have chosen unacceptable alliances – certain, public death. Fired by a fierce determination to resist everything she knows to be wrong about the society into which she was born, and aided by her devoted father, Jamil, who puts his own life on the line to help her, she escapes to Lahore and then disappears.
Jamal goes to Lahore in search of Abida – a city where the prejudices that dominate their village take on a new and horrifying form – and father and daughter are caught in a world from which they may never escape.
Moving from the depths of rural Pakistan, riddled with poverty and religious fervour, to the dangerous streets of over-populated Lahore, No Honouris a story of family, of the indomitable spirit of love in its many forms … a story of courage and resilience, when all seems lost, and the inextinguishable fire that lights one young woman’s battle for change.