24) The Things I Would Tell You ed. Sabrina Mahfouz
The subtitle to this collection is ‘British Muslim Women Write’, and it’s a varied collection of short stories, poetry, essays and play scripts all written by Muslim women in Britain. And an extremely interesting and powerful collection it is too – with a wide range of personal perspectives, polemical insights and diverse characters.
Varied is the word, though – I often find with this sort of collection that it feels a bit uneven if read straight through, and almost inevitably the quality varies. The standout stories are outstanding though – Kamila Shamsie’s story of a make-up artist is beautifully done, Sabrina Mahfouz’s tale of a surgeon coming under pressure is condensed and tense, and Selma Dabbagh manages to create a palpable claustrophobia in her Palestine-set contribution.
The poetry is a bit hit and miss; I actually liked the work by a 14 year old, Seema Begum, more than some of the more ‘established’ writers. It’s always difficult for a reader, though, to emerge from a tense story or impassioned polemic and then be straight into a selection of 3 or 4 poems. It left me wondering whether splitting the book into stories, essays, poetry might have been better – if there were meant to be resonances between things alongside each other, then they weren’t apparent to me.
Nevertheless, I’d heartily recommend it: there’s probably some topics you would expect to be covered and they are, but this a much richer, more surprising, more challenging collection. It is gentle as well as passionate, thoughtful as well as provocative, and intelligent as well as poetic. The pieces I mention above, along with others by Fadia Faqir and Ahdaf Soueif, are worth the price on their own. Indeed, Soueif’s essay, all about the ‘mezzaterra’ where Eastern and Western cultures meet, and where things are brought together rather than apart, felt an enormously timely and relevant read, given the division we see in our current politics and society.