You can't choose who you fall in love with, they say.
If only it were that simple.
Growing up in Walsall in the 1990s, Huma straddled two worlds - school and teenage crushes in one, and the expectations and unwritten rules of her family's south Asian social circle in the other. Reconciling the two was sometimes a tightrope act, but she managed it. Until it came to marriage.
Caught between her family's concern to see her safely settled down with someone suitable, her own appetite for adventure and a hopeless devotion to romance honed from Georgette Heyer, she seeks temporary refuge in Paris and imagines a future full of possibility. And then her father has a stroke and everything changes.
As Huma learns to focus on herself she begins to realise that searching for a suitor has been masking everything that was wrong in her life: grief for her father, the weight of expectation, and her uncertainty about who she really is. Marriage - arranged or otherwise - can't be the all-consuming purpose of her life. And then she meets someone. Neither Pakistani nor Muslim nor brown, and therefore technically not suitable at all. When your worlds collide, how do you measure one love against another?
As much as it is about love, How We Met is also about falling out with and misunderstanding each other, and how sometimes even our closest relationships can feel so far away. Warm, wise and ultimately uplifting, this is a coming-of-age story about what it really means to find 'happy ever after'.
This is a gorgeous book I found myself relating to in every single way.
It's not often that I see parts of my own life mirrored within the pages of a book written by somebody else, or read a book that makes me remember the worst three weeks of my life when my dad was in the hospital, or feel the immense brown girl guilt from falling in love with the (as declared by our culture) "wrong" person. But this book captured it all.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Rating: 5 out of 5
I went into this book knowing that it is one I would fall in love with, knowing it would be a book I would find myself in. And I did. Within the very first pages, I found myself nodding along, thinking this is exactly it. Often, I escape into books to leave my real life for a bit, to picture a world that isn't my own, but with this, I saw myself in the pages, woven in with Qureshi's and it was bittersweet and beautifully sad.
Reading this memoir, I felt like most of my experiences were lived through the author -- so much of the anxiety, the fears, the thoughts, unpacking the South Asian culture and the weight it places on marriage and having children for a woman are explored and explained in ways that make you question everything you have ever grown up with.
Every belief, every cultural custom. It makes you realise that you aren't alone. Qureshi talks about the pressures of marriage and the humiliation that comes with trying to find that suitable match -- although that's not something I personally can relate to, I know people who can -- and the never-ending, incessant comparisons to cousins, cousins' kids, people in the community, the whispers and gossips in the wider community and everyone always talking about you.
This is one culture that has the most annoying nosy people to ever exist and Qureshi brilliantly portrays the reality of what it's like to be a brown girl, while dealing with mental health, loss & grief, and struggling with self-confidence and self-worth.
Qureshi's writing style is beautiful, fluid and full of gorgeous imagery that stay with you til the very end.
Despite the title and everything, it is not entirely a love story, How We Met is so much more. It unpacks every custom in our culture and talks about the struggles women face when finding that something, or even that someone, that makes them happy even knowing the family -- the culture -- will not approve.
She explores the warring feelings of brown girl guilt, the conflict that is both internal and external.
Family vs love.
Society vs self.
Giving in vs giving up.
It's like every day life, because it was a moment in her life. And it was a moment in mine. The Sad Girl years is something I am still so familiar with -- navigating life in your twenties is crazy, it is hard, and you are constantly chasing a timeline set out by society.
"For most of my twenties there was a loneliness inside me. It stemmed from grief, but turned into something else. Whatever it was, it was ungentle and grasping, like fingers at a throat. It welled up inside me and rolled around in the empty expense of my heart, rattling in the corners; it was there, always."
Everything about it is real and raw, sad yet hopeful and I do like how the author didn't condemn her culture, her religion or her family for the constraints she lived in -- I loved how she felt a connection with her faith while her husband found himself in Islam.
It was . . . beautiful and a part of me feels envious because I don't think I will ever be able to have that, I don't think I will be able to overlook the parts that aren't suffocating. The story doesn't divulge everything which I actually really like, because maybe as much as the readers want to know, it is still a part of someone's reality and some things are meant to stay private.
The writing is poignant and heartfelt, and I love that Qureshi tells us the story of how she figures out the world and herself in a society that is constantly trying to shape her into its expectations of what a Muslim South Asian woman should be. It's an insight into life as a brown woman and how, years later, our culture still remains the same. It's the truth about life as undramatic and unfiltered and mundane as can be -- experienced by so many others and that's the beauty of it.
I highly, highly recommend it. <3
"But this doesn't mean that stories like mine, everyday stories of falling in love and growing up, arguing with your parents and then making up, sadness and joy and life in all its shades and nuances, the moments that give meaning to life don't deserve to be told."