Delphine Khanum fantasizes about rekindling her relationship with her father-in-law Zaki, whom she loved long before she met and married his son. But as she discovers in this richly layered, multi-generational tale, the closer one’s dreams become, the more risk there is of losing sight of what really matters.
Review: Aspirations and family ties are examined across three generations of the Khalil family in Farooki’s enjoyable novel. Lucky Khalil is a talented young soccer player with his sights set on taking the World Cup home for England. His father, Jinan, is the serious-minded, hard-working son of a Bangladeshi immigrant, married to Delphine, who feels her perfect marriage is confining. The patriarch of the Khalil family, Zaki, is a shopkeeper and gambler with wanderlust and an attraction to his son’s wife. As you discover earlier on in the book, Delphine is approximately fifteen years older than Jinan and Zaki was once her lover.
When Delphine gives in to Zaki’s advances, family bonds are stretched to the breaking point and the character’s true colors appear. As each of the characters advance in their ambitions, the cross-purposes of their desires and responsibilities blend intricately and threaten to crush the family.
The Corner Shop is clearly a character driven novel. Each character struggles with attaining their dreams or rather the mere idea of what their dreams should be. Reality and aspirations clash. With the exception of Jinan, who achieved his dreams and is happy with the results, it was interesting how other Khalil family members felt trapped yet at the same time freed by their dreams. Before being a contender of England’s football (what we in the US call soccer) team, Lucky is already plagued by a nightmare of failing his country. Delphine who came across as a modern day Madame Bovary is tired of her “perfect marriage” where she is adored and respected by her husband. Delphine wants more of the romantic notion of a marriage rather than the banal day to day moments with her husband. Zaki is suffers from the Peter Pan complex who abandons his conventional shopkeeper’s life and responsibilities when things get too complicated for him and abruptly leaves to search for something fulfilling.
I like how The Corner Shop avoids the overly discussed theme of being immigrants adjusting to a new lifestyle and zeroes in what we all, regardless of our cultural, religious, social backgrounds may be, think of: what, exactly, leads to a more fulfilled life? Though told mostly in the omnipresent third person narrator, there are sections where the narration style breaks and some of the characters narrate their side of the story, which can be challenging to follow and interrupts the pace and tone of the book. For the most part I enjoyed the flawed characters, but the twisted love triangle between Delphine, Zaki, and Jinan was hard to wrap my head around and just felt wrong. All in all, a nice quick read for fans of Jhumpa Lahiri and Zadie Smith.
Readalikes: Interpreter of the Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, White Teeth by Zadie Smith