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Published on: 07/12/23 11:48 AM

Book review: The Retreat by Zara Raheem

Healing after heartbreak

 Zara Raheem`s The Retreat is a nice light read. The style is a chatty one, the topic takes up the difficulty in sustaining, managing a marriage of some years, in this case ten, the location is the West Coast of America, and the protagonist, a Muslim working professional woman.

Nadia Abbasi is an optometrist and doing fairly well in her professional as well as personal life, until. This `until` creeps up on her gradually after the first shock of discovery, taking the reader along with her at the same pace of finding what one didn’t seek, and coming to terms with the implications of that revelation. After a certain amount of denial, Nadia must face up to the harsh reality of the fact that is now staring her in the face, in the form of some photographs her husband Aman had junked in the wastebin. Her marriage is in trouble.

Alongside this worry is the fact that Nadia has not got along too well with her elder sister Zeba. The latter had been taking care of their ailing mother and the schism grew wide between the two sisters grew after their mother`s death. Now, Nadia decides, is the time for her to reach out to her sibling, in an attempt to patch up their differences. It`s not an easy process, there is a lot of buried resentment inside both sisters which  won`t thaw or crumble too easily.

Matters are more complicated when it comes to Nadia`s marriage. She is unwilling to confront Aman right now, so decides she needs to embark on  a seek- and- find operation, to  track down the other woman and confront her. This too, sounds  easier than it actually turns out to be.

And so, Nadia takes on the twin tasks of healing these strained relationships, and it is a dance where she takes two steps forward, two to the back.

Zara Raheem`s strength lies in her direct easy style, which is clearly pitched for an American audience. While the book doesn’t offer any deep insights, it’s a sweet story of joy, sorrow, heartbreak, understanding and adapting to life, and yes, the sisterhood of women. There`s not much nuance, there`s more tell than show, everything is out there and explained to the prone- to- being -distracted reader, the ending seems a little pat and contrived,  but it is of a piece with the flow of the story. The story feels like YA fiction but it isn’t, the characters are mostly all in their mid-thirties. And there are neat heartwarming touches,  like her deceased mother coming back to `visit` Nadia in the guide of birds and animals.

Zara Raheem`s debut book The Marriage Clock was described as a great book to put in your beach bag. The Retreat is another one to stash away for a beach read or an in-journey read.

The Retreat By Zara Raheem. HarperCollins Books. Rs 499. 339 pages.

This ran in the Sunday Herald magazine of 2 July 2023.

HarperCollins Bookson relationshipssouth east Asian fictionThe RetreatZara Raheem

Sheila Kumar • July 12, 2023

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