Read: June 2016
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Synopsis: Unlucky in love once again after her possible-marriage-partner-to-be proves a little too close to his parents, Sofia Khan is ready to renounce men for good. Or at least she was, until her boss persuades her to write a tell-all expose about the Muslim dating scene.
As her woes become her work, Sofia must lean on the support of her brilliant friends, baffled colleagues and baffling parents as she goes in search of stories for her book. In amongst the marriage-crazy relatives, racist tube passengers and decidedly odd online daters, could there be a lingering possibility that she might just be falling in love . . . ?
Sofia is thirty years old when she breaks up with her potential husband, Imran, after he asks her to live with his parents and a hole-in-the-wall. Sofia works in publishing, and when she relates this story to her co-workers, her boss becomes very interested in the different aspects of Muslim dating, and proceeds to ask Sofia to write a book about it. What follows is mostly insights into Sofia’s life as she writes the book, though the book itself doesn’t particularly have priority, it is the starting point for a lot of the situations Sofia gets into.
The truth is, if your (ex) boyfriend has a habit of shaking his leg and all you want to do is chop off the limb in question, you’re probably not that in love with him.
The book is told from Sofia’s perspective in a diary-style format, so naturally much of the book’s success depends upon how much you like Sofia as a character. Personally, I absolutely loved her. I thought she was a very real, very relatable character. She’s by no means perfect, which for my part only made her more likable. She’s stubborn, hardly ever giving in to anyone, and she’s very forthright. She was also incredibly funny, her humour is often very dry and sarcastic, so I really appreciated it. I really liked that Sofia was quick to defend her beliefs in every aspect of her life. If someone said something she disagreed with, or took issue to, she almost always let them know. Even if that someone was a member of her own family.
I wanted to say that perhaps parents should dream of their children just being content, whatever the circumstance. Bar that, perhaps dream bigger.
I adored all of the characters in this book, Sofia’s family especially. She has a close relationship with her dad, which I loved reading about, and I feel like I don’t see this anywhere near often enough. Her dad was very funny, and it was very easy to warm to him. But I really, really loved her mum. She was very quick to criticise her daughters, particularly Sofia. However, she was also fiercely protective of them. Sofia comes under a lot of criticism from members of their extended family and, at some point, the families of people that she’s considering dating, and her mother quickly jumped to Sofia’s defence in these situations. Her mum’s one fierce woman. I liked that Sofia’s family had such a prominent focus in this book, often I think that in other books or films of this genre, the protagonist’s family are background characters at best. I liked that this book differed from that, and they were all such wonderful characters.
As this book is a romantic comedy, obviously I need to mention the romance. Sofia had several potential partners over the course of the book—which you’d expect, given that she’s writing a book on Muslim dating—and I really liked seeing the various successes and failures of these dates that she goes on. It offered some very funny insights into the world of online dating, as Sofia meets more than her fair share of odd ones when she signs up to Shaadi.com (later referred to only as “Shady”). I’m not going to spoil who she ends up with (to clarify, there’s no love triangle or anything like that, just standard almost-relationship drama) but I will say that I loved how the relationship developed. It felt very easy and natural – and though I did have an inkling as to who it might be very early on, that didn’t make it any less satisfying.
Romance aside, female friendship also has an important role in this book. While I’m no expert on romance novels or films, it often feels like the protagonist’s friendships can get brushed aside in favour of the love interest, or they’ll just have one particularly close friend, but that wasn’t the case here. Sofia’s friends are all well-developed, brilliant women, and though the focus is obviously on Sofia’s life, we get to see a fair share of her friends’ lives too.
Sofia Khan is Not Obliged has often been described as a Muslim Bridget Jones, and I can definitely see the comparison. However, there are several points of differences that do get touched on throughout. There are some things that Sofia experiences that a non-Muslim protagonist would not experience. The reaction to her situation with her almost-husband, for one, and the assumption that she’d somehow get into trouble for writing the book. Very early on, a man calls Sofia a terrorist after she accidentally bumps into him while trying to get on the tube, and there’s a very uncomfortable moment wherein Sofia’s editor asks Sofia if she’ll take off her hijab so she can see her hair, and then proceeds to touch her hair without her permission. I really liked that these moments were in the book. Like I said, they were important points of difference. They were all dealt with very lightly, and the book never gets too dark.
I didn’t know that I had to explain my life to people as well as go through the process of actually living it.
I highly, highly recommend this book. I guarantee you’re going to take something away from it. Even if you think you’re not into rom-coms (though, be honest, aren’t we all at least a little into rom-coms?) it’s well worth a read. I really look forward to reading anything else Ayisha Malik writes.
If you’ve read Sofia Khan is Not Obliged, I’d love to know what you thought of it!
(As an aside, I’m sorry I haven’t been very present on here over the last couple of weeks. I’m deep into writing my dissertation at the moment so unfortunately I haven’t had the time/energy 😦 but I’m trying to stay motivated so hopefully I’ll be posting more!)