Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The World Unseen: Shamim Sharif

First-time novelist, Shamim Sharif, writes an interesting novel set in the 1950's apartheid-era of South Africa. The main protagonist is a Indian-Muslim girl, Miriam, whose marriage is arranged with a Muslim boy of Indian origin but who calls Pretoria home. Her family were very approving of the match because not only did they like the idea of a child of theirs living abroad, but also, the boy didn't have parents and they felt that Miriam would have an easy time establishing a home with Omar without the interference of in-laws. How wrong they were because although Omar didn't have parents, his older brother's wife, Farah, was more than willing to take on the role of the strict matriarch of the household and she did so with brutal efficiency making Miriam slave away in the house.

After a couple of years, Miriam, Omar and their kids moved to a farming community in Delhof where they opened a store. Life was slow and the days passed in an agonizingly boring haze of housework,keeping shop, waiting on Omar but Miriam didn't complain because she dreaded going back to Pretoria, to Farah's house. Omar grew increasingly distant with Miriam and started an affair with the fiesty Farah. Miriam's unhappiness knew no bounds. She had no family close by, no friends, no job; all she had was her children and an indifferent and sometimes cruel husband----she felt unloved, unworthy and didn't know where to turn until love came from a most unexpected source---another woman.

This book is unusual in that it records apartheid from an Indian family's perspective. The Indians were neither white (the priveliged class), nor kaffirs (the Africans), but rather like the middle child, somewhere inbetween. Because they were not a huge community not much is known about how they fared during the apartheid era, thus, the book, as its title suggests, truly takes us into a world unseen.