As it’s technically still summer, with the flowers in my garden still healthy shades of red and yellow and pink (those that escaped the hungry jaws of my mad Belgian Malinois dog), and the cobalt-blue sky hanging covetously over our high garden wall as though protecting this secret paradise from the autumn winds that lie in waiting just round the corner, I thought I’d write about another of the current bestsellers on my ‘summer 2019 book list’. I started reading this one just the other day and gobbled up in no time at all, in keeping with the mouth-watering literary feast that it truly is.
Take it Back by Kia Abdullah is a powerful, tightly-orchestrated courtroom drama whose after-effects will remain with me for a long time to come. In fact, I’d say it was one of my favourite reads this summer. But I hesitate to use the word ‘favourite’, because in a way that demeans the heavy subject matter of the novel, as though implying that reading about sexual abuse and prejudice is just a pleasurable pastime. So maybe I should re-phrase that as: Take it Back was one of my most thought-provoking and meaningful reads this summer.
Kia Abdullah’s evocative writing style consumed me from the very first page. And what a first page! I want to have it framed for written evidence of the power and beauty of language. Add to this the vivid characterisation of all the cast, and you already have the perfect recipe for a successful novel.
The author’s mastery of characterisation especially applies to her protagonist, Zara – an attractive 30-year-old British Muslim woman who has inner struggles not only with her cultural identity, but also with addiction and romantic relationships (though ‘romantic’ is a hardly a term that Zara would approve of). Having given up her well-paid job as a barrister in a prestigious law firm, she now dedicates herself to helping victims from underprivileged society, demonstrating a passion for her work that her white boyfriend would long to see directed towards him instead.
When she takes on the case of Jodie, a 16-year-old white schoolgirl with facial deformities who is accusing four Muslim boys in her class of gang raping her, Zara has no idea of the wild and furious storm that is about to assail her from all sides: the Schadenfreude-hungry media, the local Muslim community (accusing her of being a traitor to their religion), and her very own, tradition-respecting family. However, Zara being Zara (I just love that woman!), she throws herself fearlessly into Jodie’s cause, aiming to gain justice at all costs – whether or not the accused boys are of her own faith. Right to the bitter end she believes that she must fight on the side of right, regardless of the consequences to her personal life. And believe me, there are huge consequences. As the court case progresses, the jury, as well as the reader, find themselves constantly ping-ponged between the question: is Jodie really telling the truth? Are the boys really lying, as Zara believes? I won’t give any spoilers here; all I can say is that it’s a heart-stopping riddle that keeps you gripping the edge of your seat right to the very end.
If I had to express one little doubt, it would be the very ending of the novel, which left me wondering, was that plausible? Why didn’t Jodie say more when that last-minute blow was delivered to the courtroom? But the fact that this one half-voiced doubt did not even dent my overall appreciation of the book is testimony to what a great novel it is.
To sum up, I’d say that Take it Back is a tour de force that has made me think about more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in my philosophy.
As Schumann said of Chopin, so I now say of Kia Abdullah: “Hats off, gentleman! A genius!”