To Go: 33
61. The Very Thought of You — Rosie Alison
62. Possession — A.S. Byatt
63. Maine — J. Courtney Sullivan
64. Winnie the Pooh — A.A. Milne
65. Brokeback Mountain — Annie Proulx
66. 44 Charles Street — Danielle Steel
67. The Perfect Gentleman — Imran Ahmad
In The Perfect Gentleman, Imran Ahmad tells his life story from the age of one, leaving Karachi, Pakistan after losing the “Bonniest Baby” contest — which the narrator is certain was rigged — to life growing up as a Muslim immigrant in London. As a boy, Imran is torn between his Islamic identity and his desire to embrace the West, and becomes completely confused about most things, including religion. With wit and humor and in delightful detail, Imran describes his quest to be the perfect English gentleman (James Bond), his yearning for the coolest car (Jaguar XJS), and his desire for the most beautiful girlfriend (perferably brunette, but any kind considered).
If it wasn’t immediately obvious, the reason I was drawn to The Perfect Gentleman was because of the cover — I mean, look at that kid! He’s totally adorable! (And I love the colours, but that’s just an aside.) So I asked my father to buy it for me for my birthday, and here I am, four months later, finally getting a chance to read it. It actually took me close to 3 weeks, just because of lack of time.
I’m torn for what to say about The Perfect Gentleman. On one hand, it’s a funny, honest portrayal of social ineptitude, and a frank immigrant’s tale, but on the other, it felt lacking in some ways. In Imran’s adulthood chapters I felt more inclined to relate to him, and to like him, than I did during his childhood and teen chapters, and at that point I thought the story was really looking up. But then, between the last two chapters of the story, there was a huge narrative jump between his arranged marriage in England at 25, and then returning to London at 37 after spending an indeterminate amount of time in America. I could live with that if there had been some explanation of what had happened to his marriage, his career, et cetera — what am I missing?!
Just as I was getting onside with The Perfect Gentleman, it left me with an utterly unfulfilling ending. The afterword almost made up for it, but I still feel so let down.
However, I will leave you with my three favourite passages:
“In another sermon, he expounds that men and women should not mix socially, and he berates those present here today (and they know who they are!) who have been mixing with girls, having coffee with them, and so on. I feel very uncomfortable. I have coffee with girls all the time. In fact, I’d have more coffee with more girls if only more girls would agree to have coffee with me.” (Ahmad 251)
“I’m Muslim — we’re so boring, we make the Amish look like swingers.” (288)
“There is no love in Pakistani culture except for family love, and that comes with strings attached. It’s only there if you keep within the rules and don’t go off pursuing your selfish desires like a vulgar white person.” (289)
Next book: Now that I actually have a small amount of free time on my hands, I’ll be starting And Laughter Fell from the Sky by Jyotsna Sreenivasan.