The Family Tree is Sairish Hussain‘s debut novel that follows the life of a British Pakistani family settled in Bradford, UK. The story begins when Amjad’s wife Neelam dies during childbirth leaving Amjad to care for his 10 year old son Saahil and his newborn Zahra. In his home, he is supported by his mother, Ammi, who is a caring and nurturing grandmother to the children. Amjad’s very close friends Harun and his wife Meana are just the support system Amjad needs and their son Ehsaan becomes like a brother to Saahil.
A few years later Saahil and his best friend Ehsaan are celebrating the end of university, filled with hopes and dreams, when an incident changes their lives forever. Meanwhile, Zahra has grown up to be someone who wants to voice her political opinions, and raise her concerns against injustice and pursue her dreams and aspirations.
Once I started this book I was pulled into the pages right away. The story line is engrossing and the characters draw you in immediately. It was refreshing to read about characters that did not fall prey to the usual Muslim stereotypes that we often see in South Asian literature.
The conversations between Amjad and his Ammi were relatable and one feels that they would have heard something like this before. In fact through out the book, I felt a sense of familiarity with the family.
Saahil’s character was brilliantly written. There were so many layers and depth to his character and each one realistic and uncluttered. I truly loved the bond between him and his sister Zahra. Saahil’s journey in this book entails grief, intense hardship and strong resilience. It was heartbreaking yet wonderful to see how it played out, while all the time having a lump in your throat.
Sairish Hussain has explored many themes in this family saga which are difficult to write and read about, yet necessary. Substance abuse, racism, depression and homelessness are complex issues but have been interwoven in this story with care. The story also gives perspective on the Muslim youth that are dealing with the aftermath of 9/11.
This was definitely a powerful narrative with the perfect blend of imagery, depth and conversation. This story is a heart breaking family saga with moments of laughter, happiness, hope and resilience.
I would highly recommend you pick this up as our next read!