Review of In the Company of Strangers by Awais Khan Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis

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.

Review

When I first read the blurb of In the Company of Strangers. I was concerned that it would be predictable. Playing into the hands of what I have come to expect from modern day thrillers which is a part of the world gripped on the path to corruption. However I couldn’t have been more wrong in my assumptions. This book in my opinion is a reflection of the turmoil within in our world.

Awais has written a narrative where every character regardless of their role in any scene you must pay attention to everything they say and do. The reason for this is because what could appear to be a throwaway piece of dialogue or meaningless action could in fact turn out to be a major plot point.

The layers of deception Awais weaves is outstanding plunging the reader into a world that is shrouded in mystery and harrowing imagery that leaves you breathless. He doesn’t shy away from exposing the truth around the Lahori society within Pakistan from the double standards, lack of empathy, and indulgence that occurs throughout the novel. Exposing us to a world of the rich that seems shut off from the rest of the country. One of the most important scenes that stayed with me as I continued reading this spellbinding tale was after a terrorist attack takes place killing hundreds of people. The main protagonist’s Mona elitist friends turn down the volume on the television and proceed to drink and dance as they see it as to depressing. I couldn’t help reflect that this was a major theme for Awais. Helping to show how separate the rich are in their views from the rest of their country.

The tapestry of voices Awais creates in this story of glamour, forbidden fruits, and a chaotic love that could end up tearing down everything the Lahori society values most is mind-blowing. Every character is placed in situations where they have internal struggles. Moments where they have to go against the status they have developed for themselves. This is shown best by Mona because even though she craves freedom and the thrills of her newfound love. She is constantly fighting against the ideals of the society in which she lives. A society in which for the most part relegate women into a place of discipline and having to project an image of calmness and strength. Mona’s sense of wanting to belong to both these polarised worlds has devastating consequences that ripple across the entire narrative. Infecting each character like a poison that ends in a domino affect  impacting upon all of them and how they execute their chosen paths.

Awais In the Company of Strangers has flipped story ideas on their head. Giving the reader a story that is filled with colour and a setting that is so atmospheric that you can’t help but taste, feel, hear, smell, and see everything you read. I could go on forever about this novel. It is a triumph in how to expose your readers to a part of a world that is unknown to them and make them feel part of it. Well done Awais you receive 5 stars. A cracking debut novel.

I received a copy from the author in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t affect my views.

About the Author

AK

Awais Khan was born in Lahore, Pakistan. ‘In the Company of Strangers’ is his first novel published by the Book Guild and Simon & Schuster. He is a graduate of The University of Western Ontario and Durham University. He studied Creative Writing at Faber Academy. His work has appeared in The Aleph Review, The Missing Slate, MODE, Daily Times and The News International. He has appeared for Interviews on Voice of America, Samaa TV, City42, Maverix Media and PTV Home. He is represented by Annette Crossland (A for Authors Agency Ltd, London).

In his free time, he likes to read all types of fiction, especially historical fiction and psychological thrillers. He is hard at work on his forthcoming novels.

Extract from The Thought Book 2 By Jay Mullings As part of Blog Tour uploaded By Dan Stubbings

Extract

The Truth About Being A Black British Screenwriter

Getting The Respect You Deserve As A Black British Screenwriter, A Die Hard Mission Impossible… – JM

DID HE JUST SAY THAT?

Yes, I said it! Someone had to! It’s hard being a Black British Screenwriter. In Britain it isn’t Black History Month. Over here, there is still very far to go before you will see the types of stories I grew up starved for. My daily diet is composed of a lot of TV, Film and Books. Don’t think for a single second this is coming from nowhere. I’ve studied my craft and I continuously practice it well. Having travelled far and wide to seek the wisdom of my peers, trusted the opinions of others and even entered festivals in lands I’ve never travelled to!

These are not the ramblings of someone who has given up; rather they are the words of someone who is getting even more fired up! Have you never gotten fired up before delivering your best stuff? – JM

WHERE IS THIS COMING FROM?

What is fuelling this fire? The stupid myth this country is clinging desperately to. Yes, I’m talking about the vaunted gatekeepers. You might like to think of yourselves as upholding standards but you’re really so far beneath it.

Everyone has a reason not to give you a chance as a writer, no one is immune to rejection. This is known to all who have tried to gain representation or pitch an idea etc. Now add being black and male on top. There is a fetish for BAME female writers and it seems the black man is collateral damage. Now am I happy to see BAME people of any kind secure the bag? Of course! Should that diminish the demand for my stories and perspective? No! Balance is the goal after all right?

MOVING GOALPOSTS FOR BLACK BRITISH SCREENWRITERS…

You’ve won awards? That’s nice, but have you won this particular one? Yeah I mean exactly the one that traditionally has never been awarded to your types (unique black) of story.

You know, ones where the black people in them do things over than get whipped for period specific reference, get called uncivilised or savages, sell work out of an estate or hurt people as a hobby.

USEFUL FEEDBACK?

Badly disguised coded language to the highest degree, with people passing on the world’s most patronising advice as if you’re far too stupid to notice. We can’t market your story about black people who came here in the heights of racist Britain via boat and the foundation they set up for future generations. Yes, because all we seem to do here is make

period pieces where black people are treated like fodder until somebody (white) saves them or they die in service.

CONCEPTUAL MISUNDERSTANDING?

Maybe it’s because in this particular story they speak patios amongst themselves in parts. They have only one child, they hustle to survive. The youngster skips school to contribute, working with his hands to come up. He gets married, sends his only child to boarding school, to give him the best possible chance at elevating his lineage to more legitimate endeavours. I could go on but you get the point. 3 generations in one story. Rich world building and character depth.

IF IT WERE…

On the other hand, if this family were to be based in America and let’s say Italian in descent. These same gatekeepers would welcome it with open arms. Rhetoric like, “It’s so authentic, they even speak Italian amongst each other” etc. There is a reason people (not me) have dubbed Tree House the mini/baby (TV) Godfather worldwide. It resonates as a story that needs to be told. Is it an exact replica? No! However, it is a point of reference much like Tolkien was for Martin. Did that make Songs of Ice and Fire any less of a celebrated masterpiece? Open your minds and stop being so rigid. Move past period pieces and romanticising about a lack of social progress.

BRITISH TV/FILM HAS NO MARKET FOR STORIES FROM BLACK BRITISH SCREENWRITERS?

I’m tired of the made up excuses about what can and can’t work, while comparing it to other things from across the Atlantic. British TV is dire because there is no representation. There is no medium between period drama whitewashing and estate life. If there is, it’s an exercise in tokenism and not something with any staying power. It is never used as a launching pad for other unique stories. There is a reason people are seeking these American shows with pluralism. Firstly they are interesting and secondly they at least attempt to address the imbalance.

BLACK BRITISH SCREENWRITERS ARE HERE ON THE BACK OF SKILL/WILL…

Careers have been launched (America), resurrected and there is progression in sight. New voices have been nurtured and they make sure the world knows who they are. Over here? It’s as if you have to wait for someone to die for an opening. Even the people with credits get put on ice and abandoned to melancholy for years. Acting isn’t the only creative endeavour in Film/TV! Stop making it about the success of one person while ignoring so many others of equal or even superior talent. It’s not a turnstile, this one in one out thing has to stop!

LITERARY AGENCIES I AM TALKING TO YOU…

Agencies! Do you even have BAME people reading your submissions? Not that you should be blind to good storytelling in the first place, but why is it you don’t seem to believe unique stories from BAME communities are very ‘now’? Was there a memo stating that being a screenwriter was off limits to black men in particular that I didn’t receive?

BEING A BLACK BRITISH SCREENWRITER BEFORE THE REVOLUTION

I wrote Feminunity 3 years before #METOO and the ‘all black’ solidarity for #TIMESUP. This story has strong female characters (7 lead roles) and covers situations not dissimilar to some of the chilling stories victims have bravely shared. Why shouldn’t this see the light of day? Shouldn’t it be made? Is this not relevant and now? Can’t an R rated film showing something other than slavery/war/Nazi Germany be backed here? Do I have to go to America before England says, “Hey big head?”

FINALLY

I know everybody has heard about the success of The Black Panther movie #WakandaForever. However, there is more to it than just good marketing, casting and the draw of comic books. People are starved for movies which serve up more than the same ole same old. Representation definitely matters! So where is that same energy in the UK? Where are these new Black British voices? I’m just asking for a friend…

 

jm

ABOUT ME

Award winning screenwriter, poet and recently nominated blogger. I believe in Truthful, Fearless, Creativity. Writing is a gift I don’t take for granted! Life is finite, so I’m here now and I’d like to make an impact. As a person I am positive, engaging, laidback, jovial but also capable of intense focus. I’ve known for years what I wanted to do and I’ve set about it with passion and originality. As you can imagine, being artificially held back is not something I could’ve predicted. The frustration I feel is a byproduct.

Extract from The Thought Book 2 by Jay Mullings. Jay is an award-winning screenwriter, and his books The Thought Book & The Thought Book 2 are out now, available from writtenmirror.com. Follow Jay on twitter and Instagram @WrittenMirror.

Thanks to The Book Publicist for inviting me to be part of this tour.