UK Publisher: Twenty7
Genre: Romantic comedy, contemporary fiction
Sofia Khan is single once more, after her sort-of-boyfriend proves just a little too close to his parents. And she’d be happy that way too, if her boss hadn’t asked her to write a book about the weird and wonderful world of Muslim dating. Of course, even though she definitely isn’t looking for love, to write the book she does need to do a little research…
I read Bridget Jones’ Diary and its sequel several times when I was in high school, as well as Louise Rennison’s Georgia Nicolson series. I loved these diary-based novels, as well as the romances in them. Georgia Nicolson impacted my vernacular at the time more than was perhaps healthy, and I inadvertently discovered one of my own teen diaries from that period and immediately set it on fire to cleanse the world of its presence (this is hyperbole but I absolutely should have done it). In the interests of being completely up-front about this, I was given access to Sofia Khan is Not Obliged through a scheme run by my employer’s parent company, Bonnier. As part of Bonnier, Igloo is set a selection of books from elsewhere in the company to read during a weekly ‘reading hour’ initiative, to help us become familiar with the broader company list. There is no obligation to review these books, and I think it’s a wonderful initiative to help us really connect with the material being published. Sofia Khan is the first book I have read through this initiative, and, honestly, I loved it.
The comparisons between Sofia and Bridget are very clear – both are single, both facing pressure from parents to marry, both work in book publicity. But that is where the similarities really stop. Where Bridget always seemed slightly inept, a little desperate, and in some ways not exactly functional (I say this with great affection, although it has been a while since I picked up the books), Sofia is very different. She is intelligent, thoughtful, dedicated, professional and really very funny. She feels like a real character. She still has blind spots, as we all do, but the comedy never comes from her ineptitude – something I found a great relief. Instead it comes from her turn of phrase, and from the people around her.
Her family are delightful. Her mother and father’s relationship is gorgeous, I love the way they bicker, as is the way they treat her. Sofia extorting her father to hide his cigarettes in her wardrobe; her father constantly chucking his slippers somewhere so he can get into the kitchen and see what’s happening with dinner because he’s banned; her mother continually pestering for her solar lights in the garden to be put up. The cultural expectations and Sofia and her family’s reactions to them are priceless. There is one particularly gorgeous moment where Sofia’s mum steps forward to defend her, and lots of tender conversations with her father.
What I really enjoyed about it, and what I get the impression permeates all Malik’s work, is that religion and faith are a clear part of her characters’ lives but they aren’t defined by them. Sofia differs from Bridget in many ways because she knows who she is and what she wants. She isn’t actually looking for love, she is content on her own and doing her own thing, it is only that everyone else thinks that she should get married that she ends up in the situations she is in. But she is also certain of her requirements and needs, and tries not to compromise that. Malik normalises faith and gives a wonderfully sensitive portrayal of religion.
The romance in it was cute as well. My husband read a lot of it over my shoulder, and it turns out he is very bad at predicting romance tropes, whilst I am an expert. The relationship is super lovely, and built wonderfully. I really enjoyed the dynamics and thought it played out beautifully. All this against a backdrop of family support and love, and a rich culture.
It also didn’t shy away from dealing with racism, and the weight of expectations on Sofia as a Muslim woman, and as a hijabi. A detail I particularly liked was that Malik emphasises that the hijab was a choice made by Sofia, as an adult, based on her own faith. None of the other women in her family wear a hijab, and her mother tries to actively discourage her both because she thinks it will affect her marriage prospects, but also because her parents worry about her safety. This is a post-9/11 world. In fact, that was the event which inspired Sofia to wear the hijab, to change her relationship with her faith and become more considered. It’s not a big part of the story, but it’s woven completely through it and constantly present, in much the same way it is part of the background of everyday life for Muslims in today’s Britain.
This book is warm and loving and thoroughly delightful. Sofia is smart and witty, confident and entirely sure of herself. It’s wonderful to read someone who knows herself so well, and who makes sensible choices towards that. She has wobbles sometimes, but they’re understandable, and she course-corrects and makes the right decisions for her own happiness. I loved every minute of it, and it left me feeling very happy. It covers the ups and downs, but unlike being a bit of a pantomime like Bridget Jones is, the whole thing felt wonderfully real.
- A lovely, smart, gentle romantic comedy with real, relatable characters and relationships.
- Sofia is smart and confident, she knows herself entirely and it makes it really relaxing to read about her. The comedy is from the situations, the conversations, the relationships, not from her mistakes and ignorance. It makes it a much less stressful read.
- There is something very special about the romance in this, and also the way faith doesn’t overtake the narrative, but it is always there, always present, comforting and stable. It’s dealt with so sensitively.
Rating: 5/5 – I loved this whole thing. It was easy and friendly and lovely, and it was just the perfect, relaxing read. I want to read the sequel, and just spend more time with these people, in this place.