Review: Unimagined

When you first pick up Unimagined, the most striking thing about it is the cover. It features the author, very young and somewhat debonair-looking in a suit. It is an unusual photo. But, somehow, it perfectly suits the book.

Unimagined is a series of memories penned by Imran Ahmad. He chronicles his life thus far, from his poor childhood (he’s the son of Pakistani immigrants) to the awkwardness of adolescence. It is, at times, humorous and heartwarming. There are moments of pathos. More remarkable is its authenticity: the ordinary things we pay little attention to are illuminated.

Each chapter is given a one-word title. For example, “War”, Scotland”, “Separated”, hinting, obviously, at what that installment is about. And this book is about everything: unrequited love, the hardship of youth, not to mention the difficulties of trying to figure out what it means to be Pakistani when most of your schoolmates are Anglo. And what of being Muslim when everyone around you isn’t?

A nice illustration of this comes in the chapter titled “Spam”. Ahmad has thus far enjoyed his school dinners, including the Spam ones. Noticing that one of his classmates has a particular way of eating it, Ahmad decides to do the same at the next opportunity. However, when he tells his parents that he enjoyed cutting his Spam into little squares, they “confer together, then issue a commandment. ‘We don’t eat pork’.”

Ahmad continues: “I am disappointed, but I obey them. From then on, I don’t eat pork. I don’t know why, but I don’t do it.”

It’s those observations I found most truthful. I’ve no doubt many Muslims will relate to that youthful confusion, remembering the awkwardness of having to explain that something is haram (forbidden) because their parents told them so — but without really knowing why.

The narrative is delivered in present tense. Admittedly, this gets frustrating after a while, and is likely to put off those readers less interested in the “everyday” happenings of one man. But others won’t mind, and it is entertaining.

In any case, its selling point will be its topicality — a story about a Muslim upbringing in “the West”. And really, there aren’t many books out there without the obligatory veiled woman smacked on the cover. So Unimagined makes for a refreshing change. It’s not for everybody, but it’s worth a read.

Austrolabe has two copies of Unimagined to give away. To win a copy, send an email to First in, first served.


#1 sarah on 02.24.08 at 9:45 am

Sathnam Sanghera’s “If you don’t know me by now” is also another great memoir of the trials of growing up brown (but sikh) in the west.

#2 insider on 02.24.08 at 12:51 pm

I also recommend Satyender Singh’s story on growing up as a Sikh in South West Sydney. It’s called ‘Fully Sikh”.

Actually, I made that up..

#3 Imran Ahmad on 02.24.08 at 11:12 pm

Thank you for this very kind review of my book, ‘Unimagined’.

This is a funny coincidence. I’ve just been writing a review of ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’ I was asked to do by a UK newspaper. It’s actually a very insightful book. It’s a huge relief to know that Pakistani Muslims are not the only ones who create little community-states in the West, with all of their home country prejudices, feuds, superstitions and cultural baggage preserved intact, and without adherence to the founding principles of their religion.

I have been invited to the Sydney Writers’ Festival this May, so I hope to see you there.

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