Published in hardback 13th June 2019, and in paperback 1st October 2020, by Zaffre Books.
From the cover of the book:
In the sleepy village of Babel's End, trouble is brewing.
Bilal Hasham is having a mid-life crisis. His mother has just died, and he finds peace lying in a grave he's dug in the garden. His elderly Auntie Rukhsana has come to live with him, and forged an unlikely friendship with village busybody, Shelley Hawking. His wife Mariam is distant and distracted, and his stepson Haaris is spending more time with his real father.
Bilal's mother's dying wish was to build a mosque in Babel's End, but when Shelley gets wind of this scheme, she unleashes the forces of hell. Will Bilal's mosque project bring his family and his beloved village together again, or drive them apart?
Bilal Hasham is not a man who is comfortable with his Muslim faith. He cannot even remember the last time he set foot in a mosque. When he moved away from Birmingham with his family, their intention was to live an "English" life in the country, and for eight years they have succeeded. For all intents and purposes, they have settled into village life, as members of the community of Babbels End, although they are the only non-white family for miles. On the surface, they seem content with their lives and have made many friends, but things are not always what they appear to be...
When Bilal feels compelled to proceed with his task to build a mosque whatever the cost, the relationships both within his own family and with many of their neighbours change significantly - the majority of the villagers are outraged at the suggestion, seeing it as an attack on their traditional way of life, and Bilal is not really sure of his own standing with his wife and stepson either.
In the midst of strife, an unexpected light at the end of the tunnel appears, in the form of Bilal's aunt Rhuksana, who has lived most of her adult life in the shadow, and home, of Bilal's mother, after being tragically widowed at a young age. She speaks no English and has always been content to stay at home, away from the busy world around her, saying her prayers and writing poetry. She is not really arriving at the best of times, but her quiet presence and endless kindness has a profound effect on Bilal's family and the village of Babbels End. Rhuksana does not understand why everyone is so angry, and is determined to forge friendships where she can - even with the difficult Shelley. Why can't they all just get along?
This is a pretty complex story, with multiple themes beyond that of a Muslim man who is compelled to question his own faith and identity, at the behest of his dying mother. It is actually the ideas of friendship, love, home and finding a compromise in the face of change that shine through, above all else.
The nature of love is explored in the stories of many of the characters in this book - romantic love, matrimonial love, and parental love - both happy and sad. Friendships are broken and sometimes remade, but the story also shows that kinship can be found in unexpected places as well - even if those friends appear to have nothing in common. And I rather enjoyed how Ayisha Malik makes you think about what home actually means to us too, and how is this tied to our identity? Is it the place we are born, where we are living, or the people we live with? Plenty to think about here.
Big chunks of this book are really very funny and touching, which balances out nicely with the parts that deal with controversy and strife. It is loaded with humour and there are more than a few odd-ball characters for you to laugh at - in fact, it reminded me a little of some of the characters from the old Tom Sharpe books (Blott on the Landscape springs to mind).
This book was a slow burner for me, but once Rhuksana made an appearance she worked her magical way her way into my heart and made this story very special. Her kindness, her ability to see beyond the surface and her persistence in forming a friendship with even the most reluctant of villagers - while she was suffering from her own secret sadness - really made this book for me.
This is a very emotional story, which made me shed more than a few tears, and has left me with lots of things to ponder over too. This is a perfect read for the post-Brexit age.
This Green and Pleasant Land is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer - also available in ebook and audio formats.
Thank you to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.
About the author: