Source: Review copy
Publication: 19 June 2021 in e-book; 19 August 2021 in paperback
My thanks to Orenda Books for an advance copy for review
A young woman defies convention in a small Pakistani village, with devastating results for her and her family. A stunning, immense beautiful novel about courage, family and the meaning of love, when everything seems lost…
No Honour is an important book because it tackles head on some of the most important questions facing Pakistan in the modern age. As Awais Khan shows us, institutional corruption is rife whether in the police, in government or political circles and its therefore no surprise that the drug trade is allowed to flourish largely unchallenged. Pakistan acts as a facilitator for drug consignments, which in connivance with Pakistan’s authorities, are smuggled through the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and the profits are used to fund terrorism.
With The Taliban having such a hold on drugs trafficking, it is no surprise that the position of women in Pakistan is still a feudal one, especially in rural areas. This is the background for the focus of No Honour.
Honour killings are something we hear about happening even in this country, but nothing prepares you for the barbarity of an act perpetrated by men – family members – against women and their newly born babies. This is toxic masculinity writ large. Distorted ideals designed to allow men to assert their dominance, using violence to prove their masculinity and to exert power and control.
It is a tool of cowards and bullies and Awais Khan’s beautifully characterised novel shows this plainly for what it is. In a powerful and utterly shocking opening, we see an ‘honour killing’ taking place and immediately it is clear that women here are chattels, existing only to do the bidding of the menfolk who would rule their families by intimidation.
What I loved about this book is that although it is the story of Abida’s journey, this is also herer father’s story – the story of two people who go through an enormous cultural change. Abida is a 16 year old girl who freely enters into a loving relationship with a young man in her village. He tells her he loves her but when she falls pregnant, everything changes. Knowing she has two options – death or flight, she finally persuades her weak young man to go with her and they flee to Lahore.
But Lahore is a city riddled with danger and the weakness that we saw in Abida’s young man flourishes in a cess pit of desire and deprivation. Alone and friendless, Abida has no option but to surrender to her terrible fate.
In other hands this could be a melodramatic thriller, but Awais Khan handles it well and sensitively, never overdoing it, giving just enough information to allow us to imagine the hell that Abida has to endure.
This Lahore is dark and dangerous and in this big city, the sharks are always circling, looking for the weak to prey on and corrupt. Isolated and friendless, living hand to mouth, Abida has no hope of rescuing her situation and it only gets worse.
Awais Khan beautifully describes Abida’s fear and loneliness in the oppressive and sleazy atmosphere that is Lahore’s low level thuggery and criminality. He chronicles Abida’s descent into humiliation and forced captivity with a horrifying calm and matter of fact that only adds to our sense of horror.
But Khan’s protagonist Abida is a young woman who defied convention to do what she wanted and the spark of that spirit still lingers in her, spurred on by a force that is stronger than anything she has known before.
What I especially loved about this book, though, is the counter-cultural journey that Abida’s father, Jamil goes on. Himself a weak man, but the son of a strong mother, he is so used to toeing the line, to not upsetting the status quo even when he instinctively feels that honour killings are not right, he remains quiet and subservient.
It is only when Abida disappears that he finds the strength and courage to go looking for her and then he is prepared to anything he can to rescue her from a plight that threatens to take her from him forever. His journey is just as profound as Abida’s and it is the fact that both male and female characters in this novel can make that progressive journey that really beds in the hope and the recognition that change is possible.
I enjoyed Awais Khan’s disturbing and often deeply upsetting novel. Because it is an immersive and riveting story, it is important to remember that the practice of ‘honour’ killings is all too real, and that’s what makes this well -written book incredibly important. Awais Khan is to be commended for crafting this story specifically to speak out against such inhumanity.
Verdict: I loved No Honour for its signals of hope; for lifting the veil on an oppressive and evil practice and most of all, for the redemption that it offers. Pakistan society must find the resolve to eschew these barbaric and shameful practices which are the epitome of ‘No Honour’. I sincerely hope that this book will make a contribution towards that end.
Awais Khan was born in Lahore, Pakistan. His first novel, ‘In the Company of Strangers’ was published by the Book Guild and Simon & Schuster. He is a graduate of The University of Western Ontario and Durham University. He studied Creative Writing at Faber Academy. His work has appeared in The Aleph Review, The Missing Slate, MODE, Daily Times and The News International. In his free time, he likes to read all types of fiction, especially historical fiction and psychological thrillers. He is hard at work on his forthcoming novels.