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Caroline Spalding
Features Correspondent
9:34 AM 25th March 2022
arts

Review: Good Intentions By Kasim Ali

Good Intentions is a compassionate novel. It uses uncomplicated language to explore the experiences that are familiar to so many, such as family loyalty, what you are meant to do and what is expected of you, and of course the false expectations we place upon ourselves by dint of what think our parents would want us to do. However, it also carefully details the unspoken tensions that arise within families: the disagreements, the prejudices we consciously or unconsciously hold. Good Intentions shines a new light on how expansive racism can truly be; how it transcends the simplistic ‘black and white’ and reminds us that the provenance of prejudice is blind - it may emerge in any person, irrespective of creed or colour. Examined through the lens of an interracial relationship, we see how prejudice can be a constant companion.

The book’s style will appeal to younger audiences: the protagonists are young adults finding their feet and their own identity as they transition into a life beyond academic study. The characters are so insightfully rendered that we can all recognise and understand their foibles; the characterisation so authentic that they could easily have stepped out of our own reality.

The story is that of Nur and Yasmina, a couple who after university have come to cohabit, yet their relationship remains wholly concealed from Nur’s family. The novel opens at the point where he has finally decided he will tell his parents of his love, and the story covering the previous four years of their relationship is delivered episodically. At these intervals, our knowledge of each character deepens, and we discover their idiosyncrasies. Beginning almost at the end, we think we know the story’s conclusion, but that doesn’t prevent us from wanting to know all that came before.

Nur is terrified of how his family will react: he has kept Yasmina a secret for four years and has not disclosed the fact that she is black. He is a Pakistani Muslim, and the couple share the same religion, but that will not prevent the racism that he believes his parents will declare.

Interlinked with the underlying pulse of prejudice and how it may affect our lives and our behaviour, is the theme of our familial relationships, our loyalty where it is due. Nur recognises he lives a very different life to that of his parents, and there’s almost an unspoken disconnect, a tension, because of it. I’d venture to say this is not about their heritage, that his parents came to the UK as immigrants and he was born and raised here, but that any millennial or Gen-Z these days has a similar experience if only because the world today is radically different to the world of thirty or forty years ago. Think of the bemused expression when trying to explain a 35mm film or a dial-up modem to a child, and you might see my point.

Good Intentions will give a wide audience something to relate to, but even those who cannot find a connection will welcome the candid insight into lives beyond their own. The novel is written delicately and with great honesty and I would not be surprised to discover that it had been written from personal experience.

Honesty makes us trust the story, trust the characters and form a bond. We adore Nur like we might a younger brother: at times we empathise, want to take him in a warm embrace, and at other times we would rather give him a damn good throttle.

Common to many modern novels, Good Intentions deals with the concept of self-identity, especially how judgement, or rather, the judgement we feel placed upon us, may hinder one’s progress. It asks the question, how does a false perspective translate into our own behaviour? Do we question our own motivations? Do we feel unconscious bias? Are our actions a consequence of our own decisions, or of all the life events that led up to it?

‘Good Intentions’ is an expression that might epitomise Nur and we enjoy our time with him in this emotive, heartwarming, but also heartbreaking novel.


Good Intentions is published by 4th Estate