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Issue 72 - Difficult second album

Whisky Magazine Issue 72
June 2008


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Difficult second album

Jefferson Chase looks at the battle between the secular and religious.

Critics didn't much care for Hanif Kureishi's second novel The Black Album when it appeared in 1995.

The story of a British-Pakistani university student torn between secular pleasures and Muslim fundamentalism was deemed too dour, too political and, astonishingly for the author known for his skill with the erotic, not sexy enough.

But I'd make the case this book was ahead of its time, six years ahead, to be precise.

The hero, Shahid Hassan, is British born and bred but unsure of where he belongs. One option is the world represented by his criminal brother Chili and his dissipate late father.

A Glenn Miller record played whilst he swigged whisky in a long glass, half Bushmills, half carbonated water. This bed Papa took to whenever he was not at work. He lay there like a pasha, with a pile of comics on his bedside table.

The ‘centre of operations' he called it.

Shahid leaves the security of his suburban boyhood home for the confusion of London, including the obligatory, squalid bed-sit.

A Pakistani neighbour introduces him to a radical Muslim preacher named Riaz, with whom he has the following bit of dialogue.

“Excuse me, can I ask you – I know you won't mind – but your family has some distinction, I can see.” “To me they have, yes.” “How, then did they let you come to be at such a derelict college?” With his shy air and none of the whiskydrinking braggadocio of Shahid's uncle, for instance, Riaz seemed polite. But all the same, he wondered if he wasn'...

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