Cover Image: My Friends

My Friends

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Member Reviews

My only regret is that I didn't pick this book up earlier. I'm delighted to have discovered Hisham Matar and look forward to reading his other works. I enjoyed his imagination, the style of his prose, the depth of human study that were shared by his characters words, expressions and interactions. Absolutely superb.
The historical setting of the Libyan Embassy shootings is now 40 years ago. I have friends who remember this incident only too well and are still saddened by it. Matar's characters and the friendship theme is a strong one. I enjoyed how it explores cultural and landscape belonging. As well as family ties, hopes, fear and a life span. There's a strange peace and acceptance that shines through, despite the fear, insecurity and courage combined with a lack of courage. Brilliant stuff.

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Libyans Khaled and Mustafa are studying in Edinburgh when they decide to take part in a demonstration in London in front of the Libyan Embassy. The fall-out from that demonstration shapes the rest of their lives, and with their writer friend Hosam they have to decide whether or not to return to their homeland when the Libyan Revolution breaks out there. Many readers will remember the Libyan Embassy siege, which resulted in the tragic killing of PC Yvonne Fletcher, and the book captures the events of that day very well. It’s an insightful and perceptive exploration of exile and patriotism, the bonds of family and friendship, and the courage and commitment that exiles are sometimes required to demonstrate, but somehow the book just didn’t resonate with me. One problem for me was Khaled himself, who is very much a blank slate, always more acted upon than acting and seemingly incapable off commitment and decisiveness. The pace is slow, which contributes to a lack of urgency and jeopardy, and in fact very little actually happens, although events in Libya itself are of course tumultuous, and the return of two of the friends and what happens to them does add some action to the novel. However, overall the novel, in spite of its relevant themes, just didn’t pack enough of a punch to really engage me, and although it’s well-written and well-crafted, it’s too long, which again detracts from the sense of jeopardy. I enjoyed the insight into Libyan history and politics, but remained at a distance from the characters and their plight.

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This is a moving novel following Khaled and Mustafa who meet at University in Edinburgh. After attending a protest in London and being wounded things will never be the same for them. This book is emotional and really focuses on human connection. It is amazingly written and will definitely be one of my top reads this year.

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Thought provoking, emotionally challenged, well written. The author is a master storyteller and I loved this story that made me meet people living a moment when you have to choose and you don't know what to do.
The author is a master storyteller and I read this novel turning pages as fast as I could.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher for this ARC, all opinions are mine

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I enjoyed the insularity of this - that the novel spans years and continents but is really about two friends who have seen each other through everything. It reminded me of Khaled Hosseini in the best ways.

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Reading the book I constantly was feeling like it is like an autobiography. The events of life were enriched with the opinion of main character but not very deep emotional charge.

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I read literary fiction predominantly to learn about periods of history and/or cultures that I really don’t know very much about. I know very little about Libya or its history, so I was really looking forward to seeing what I could learn from this story.

During his childhood, Khaled hears a strange short story on the radio. Powered by the resonance of those words, he finds himself on his way to university in Edinburgh. The UK brings Khaled a new life of political activism against the Qaddafi regime, exile from his home country and fear of telling his parents the truth about his situation. Then he meets Hosam Zowa, the author of the story he heard all those years ago, and so begins a special friendship that opens Khaled’s mind to who he really is and what’s important.

In short, this book is mostly about Khaled and his friends, hence the simple yet apt title. It’s about how his friendships have shaped who he is and the course of his life. It’s also about how those friendships evolve and change over time.

Khaled clearly admires his father and I could see his influence in the man that Khaled wanted to become. Khaled’s father looks at the dictatorship through an academic lens and I think that definitely colours his son’s views. It is a really sensible way to think about politics, so it was easy to be on Khaled’s side as such.

One thing that Matar did really well was describe the tension, the emotion and the uniqueness of being right in the midst of a public political protest. It’s the turning point in Khaled’s life and this scene was so vivid. It was also horrific and frightening to read but it felt so real.

As I said before, I knew very little about Libyan history and although I knew that the capital of Libya is Tripoli, which looks and sounds like a very Italian word, I never knew about Italian Fascism in Libya. This is definitely an area of political history I’d be interested in finding out more about.

I’ve never considered the presence of many books in a house to be a sign of permanence and stability but I guess it is. Moving stacks of books around regularly is extremely tiring and time-consuming, so it makes perfect sense that you’d only accumulate books once you’re settled somewhere. This is why despite being a writer, Hosam has so few of them.

Naturally, the book speaks to migrants and those displaced by war and politics. Khaled’s friend Rana was one of my favourite characters and I was really invested in her story. She’s wise, kind and quiet and I’d have loved to have spent more time with her.

My Friends is an interesting, sprawling read about how vital friendships are to one’s coming of age. However, there were times where I lost track of what was going on and who was who. So perhaps the characters could have had more distinct voices and the plot could have had more going on because it’s definitely a character-driven novel. I have a feeling that this is going to be a big book this year though, so I’m interested to see the reception it gets.

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Hisham Matar is a very great writer. He is worth reading for the quality of writing alone. His stories are compelling and feel very true. This one is no exception. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes a good story well told. It has everything a good novel needs. It is a story of friendship, growing up and life. It is elegant and masterful. I loved it.

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My Friends is a poignant portrayal of friendship, politics, and exile. Following the lives of three Libyan men who become linked across continents and decades.
These friends navigate the complexities of foreign land and their pasts. Especially when a tragic protest in London highlights their lives through the uncertainty of exile and the cost of revolution.

The prose is lyrical and captivating. Matar creates lifelike characters with perfect depth - flaws and contradiction on full display. There are struggles with identity, discontentment with life and self, and artistic insecurity. Matar writes with humanity and honesty.
While it is very politics heavy, it also focuses greatly on human connection, as well as the support and conflicts of long-term friendships. The bonds between the men are stretched and strained through differences in views, life and politics, and the novels end in a way that feels incredible real and human and the resonance of it lingers for sure.

It's a lovely piece of storytelling, it personally took me a little while to get into but is well worth the read.

Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin UK for the ARC

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Hisham Matar's "My Friends" is a poignant tapestry woven from threads of friendship, political turmoil, and the bittersweet ache of exile. It transports us into the lives of three Libyan men – Khaled, Mustafa, and Hosam – whose destinies become entwined across continents and decades.

The narrative begins with Khaled, a young man escaping the stifling confines of Benghazi to pursue literary dreams in Edinburgh. A chance encounter with Hosam, the enigmatic author who shaped Khaled's childhood imagination, sparks a profound kinship. They are joined by Mustafa, a fellow Libyan exile whose playful irreverence masks a deep-seated yearning for home.

These friends become each other's anchors, navigating the complexities of a foreign land and grappling with the shadows of their past. A pivotal protest in London, tinged with tragedy, casts a long shadow over their lives, highlighting the precariousness of exile and the allure of revolution.

Matar's prose is as captivating as it is lyrical. He imbues characters with lifelike depth, their flaws and contradictions rendered with unflinching honesty. We witness Khaled's struggles with identity, Mustafa's simmering discontent, and Hosam's artistic torment - each resonating with a profound sense of humanity.

The book transcends personal narratives, painting a vivid picture of Libya's tumultuous political landscape. The echoes of Gaddafi's regime and the Arab Spring reverberate through the characters' choices, forcing them to confront the cost of revolution and the weight of loyalty.

However, "My Friends" is not merely a political treatise. It delves into the heart of human connection, exploring the unwavering support and the inevitable friction that defines long-term friendships. Witnessing the bonds of these men shift and strain under the pressure of distance, conflicting aspirations, and political upheaval, becomes a deeply relatable and moving experience.

Matar concludes his masterful narrative with a bittersweet acceptance of life's uncertainties. The friends remain connected, forever marked by their shared past, yet ultimately left to navigate their own paths. This melancholic resonance lingers long after the final page is turned, leaving the reader with a powerful sense of reflection and empathy.

"My Friends" is a triumph of storytelling, a beautifully crafted exploration of friendship, exile, and the enduring human spirit. It is a must-read for anyone seeking a profound and deeply impactful literary experience.

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My Friends intertwines a story of friendship with large-scale political events and trauma. Its narrator is Khaled, a Libyan exile who has lived all his adult life in London. Khaled is seeing his close friend, Hosam off at the station after a visit. Hosam is heading towards a new life in the United States. The visit has stirred up strong emotions and as Khaled walks back home through London, he detours to several key locations in his story, and recalls the key events of his past.

Khaled grows up the son of a respected headmaster in Benghazi, who skirts the narrow line between thinking critically and never publicly criticising the regime. He instils in Khaled a love of literature and ideas. In 1983 Khaled gets a scholarship to study literature at the University of Edinburgh.

Even here, he knows he will be under surveillance from his fellow Libyan students but quickly forms a friendship with one of them, Mustafa. They decide to travel to London to a demonstration outside the Libyan embassy. For them, it is an adventure. They sleep in a hostel and plan to visit a Chinese restaurant – a new experience for both of them – after the demonstration.

At the demonstration, Khaled and his friend are among several people shot from inside the embassy and injured. Later, he sees the photos in the papers of Yvonne Fletcher, the police officer killed in the attack, and recalls seeing her in the crowd.

While they are in hospital, under armed guard and given pseudonyms for their own protection, Khaled realises that his life as he knows it is over. He cannot return to Edinburgh or to his family in Libya. So begins his life in London. Over the years, he builds a life for himself, but somehow it always feels provisional, as if he is waiting for the life he had before he was shot to begin.

Khaled’s friendship with Mustafa continues and deepens. Mustafa is quite different from Khaled, more gregarious, restless, attracted by wealth and status, but their shared experience outweighs their differences.

Hosam’s is a name Khaled knew only as a Libyan writer of stories which provide solace while he is in the hospital. Later Khaled and Hosam meet and their experience of exile and shared love of literature leads to a different kind of friendship.

At first Khaled keeps the two friends, like the two sides of his character, separate. Later they come together, but there is tension in the triangle. Mustafa becomes possessive of Khaled, as if he wants the friendship to be monogamous. As the Qaddafi regime becomes increasingly unstable in the years after the Arab Spring, and they weigh up whether to return and fight, it is Khaled who comes to feel excluded.

Khaled’s reminiscences don’t follow a strict geographical or chronological order. His mind roves around the central narrative, back to his childhood in Benghazi, forward to the present. This frame is interesting because the mature Khaled can look back and offer insights, make connections. But it also means we can’t be sure what he remembers is what actually happened. Small details of the hours before the demonstration are freighted with significance. He has a sense of foreboding. Was that really how he felt or are these impressions coloured by hindsight?

At times the mature reflection of the narrative voice can be too understated. Perhaps it was my inattention but I had forgotten that Khaled only 18 at the time of the shooting, until it’s mentioned in passing. While the trauma of the shooting, and the profound dislocation of having to leave his life behind, in a city and country he doesn’t know, are powerfully rendered, his youth and inexperience add an extra layer to the cruelty.

However the disparate memories and observations weave together into a compelling and moving account of how a cruel regime exacts power beyond pure physical violence. It infects all close relationships. Khaled is constantly withholding himself from those he loves. It isn’t only about trust, it is also about protecting them.

On one occasion, as he is on a call to his parents, he hears a cough on the line from a listener. He is sure this isn’t an accident. They want him to know they are listening, to ensure that he is constantly surveilling himself. He is doing their work for them.

There are many other wonderful elements to this book. Khaled’s thoughts on his reading (I kept pausing to look up the books and authors he mentions), the delicate portrayal of his family, whose lives are also on hold, waiting for him to come home, not understanding why he won’t. It is also notable how smoothly and quickly he receives his refugee status compared with asylum seekers today (although there are suggestions that Thatcher’s guilt at allowing the shooters to leave the UK under cover of diplomatic immunity may have been a factor).

My Friends contains so many layers. It is a political novel, a coming-of-age story, and a beautiful study of friendship. Khaled and his friends share a trust and intimacy which even their romantic partners and family cannot. Their experience of exile both unites and fractures them.
*
I received a copy of My Friends from the publisher via NetGalley.

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Published this week, My Friends by Hisham Matar, an acclaimed, prize-winning British-Libyan author, is an engrossing and moving tale of friendship between three Libyan men, bound together by shared trauma, political exile and their love of literature.

Set in the present day with reflections on the past, Khaled is a Libyan man who moved to Edinburgh as a teenager, having obtained a scholarship to study English literature.

With Qaddafi’s eyes and ears everywhere, Khaled befriends fellow countryman and student Mustafa, and in a fit of courage, both boys set off to London to take part in a demonstration at the Libyan embassy on 17 April 1984, a decision with lifelong ramifications for both and for another man (Hosam) who they subsequently befriend. (Interestingly the scene at the Libyan embassy is based on a real life event that involved the death of PC Yvonne Fletcher).

Out of the wreckage of that fateful day, Khaled builds a life for himself in London, a city he grows to love and know intimately over the course of many years. When the Arab Spring takes place in 2011, life changes for Khaled and his friends, as they contemplate whether to return to Libya to fight for the opposition or stay in exile in London.

This isn’t a fast-paced read - it very much mirrors the pace of Khaled’s leisurely walk across London as he meditates on the course his life has taken. It is slow and meandering at times but always interesting.

The book does a wonderful joy of portraying the life of an exile - never quite belonging in either their home country or their adopted home and always with a sense of melancholy and longing for what has been left behind.

It shines a light on what it was like to live under a dictatorial regime (Qaddafi ruled for 27 years), where one’s every word comes under scrutiny. Libya has been plagued with civil wars, conflict and instability since Qaddafi was overthrown.

An excellent read for anyone with an interest in literary fiction, friendship and politics. A sure thing for prize lists in 2024. 4/5⭐️

.*Many thanks to the author, publisher and @netgalley for the arc. My Friends will be published on 11 January 2023. As always, this is an honest review.

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Narrator Khaled’s close friend and writer Hosam is leaving for the USA. On his slow walk from Kings Cross station to his home in London, he reflects on his past with his two closest friends and the instances that have left him unable to return to his home country of Libya.

While at university in Edinburgh, Khaled and his friend Mohammed attended the 1985 protest outside of the Libyan embassy - and were shot as a result. Years later, Khaled finds now friend Hosam was also at the protest, though he was uninjured. A decades-long friendship between the three men ensues as their lives take very different routes.

Khaled recounts these years of friendship, and of his life exiled from Libya and his family. Much is made in the novel of translation and displacement. Khaled is influenced by an academic (and later friend) who argues a translated text can never be as powerful as the original. Later Khaled discusses words that cannot be properly translated into English, losing their nuance along the way.

It’s this idea of a loss of depth or texture that follows Khaled through his life in the UK. Reluctant to return home when finally able, Khaled spends his time in London at arms length from life. He stays in the same small flat, he never really engages in relationships, even his family in Libya is kept in the dark (sometimes necessarily so) about key elements of his life. The greatest colour in Khaled’s narrative is when his family visits, when engaging in his friendships, when he talks of his home country.

This is an affecting and wonderfully executed novel about a life exiled, about found family, about the meaning of home.

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I was fortunate to receive a copy of this ARC from NetGalley and Penguin.

This felt like quite a deep book to start 2024 with and I was worried I'd find it too "intellectual", but it is written on a way that is generally easy to follow. Although I wasn't born in 1984, I have watched various documentaries and read articles on the events at the Libyan embassy and WPC Yvonne Fletcher so that felt familiar to me.

Told mainly in the past but with some sections in the present, Khaled takes us through his childhood and how his life changes forever after he attends the protest outside the embassy. I have grown up always thinking of Libya as a no-go country due to Qaddafi (how it is spelt in the book) much like Iraq, Afghanistan etc, but of course life does go on for people who live in those countries.

This was a really thought provoking read and I'm glad I read it.

There are many beautiful sentences in this novel and it took quite some time for my to choose.

My favourite quote:
"When we are old and everything is down we ought to speak only about ideas, food and dreams."

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Told from the perspective of Khaled, a young Libyan man, although tied together with the stories of others, Mustafa and Hosam, My Friends is a tender, lyrical, but deeply passionate tale of friendships forged in the wake of profound personal and political tragedy - it is at once an ambitious, epic tale of geography, history, and ideology, and a perfectly small one: it asks how we find ourselves far away from home, how we navigate great pain and still somehow, with the help of our allies, make it through the other side.

Matar's prose is not flashy, indulgent, or overly sentimental, and he is able to perfectly balance a mix between the emotional and analytic - Khaled is a well-rounded, complexly written character, and his actions throughout the novel are both understandable and, like that of real people, not without fault, and I felt strongly connected to his story. It is rare to read a portrait of male friendships which is so gentle and yet intricate, at times thorny, and as someone who is ashamed to have been so ignorant of the country's history prior to this, it was fascinating to learn more about Libyan culture and society.

Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin General for this e-ARC!

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This is the story of three Libyan male friends and their life mostly after leaving the country the story is mainly told from the point of view of one of the three men and looks at how they meet and how their relationships develop over the years

The book starts extremely well, and had grabbed my attention quickly . The author’s own life and upbringing have lots of similarities to the narrator of the novel and this has resulted in a story that feels entirely true and almost autobiographical. In nature.The scene after the embassy protest had me in floods of tears I remember this happening, in 1984, particularly the death of the police woman Yvonne Fletcher

I was very quickly immersed in the story I had recently read a book about friendship in a group of British young man, and was struck by the similarity of some of the emotions in this novel, despite the fact, young people were mostly Libyan in this novel and British in the other. Personally, I enjoyed the earlier portions of the novel when the narrator was a teenager and young man more than the sections later on.

Whilst the majority of the book is written in the first person from the point of view of the main narrator, there are some towards the end that are written in the first person, but by one of the friends, this confused me a bit they were I think intended to be of an email, but it took me awhile to realise this.

The last third of the book did not live up to its promising start a huge period of time is covered when his friends are away fighting in the war, and this is really only touched superficially I felt somehow unsatisfied by this, I didn’t enjoy this part of the novel as much as the start. Likewise, I felt the ending was rushed and unsatisfactory.

The book is written in beautiful, melodic, flowing language and was enjoyable,read

I loved the fact that the love of books themselves is frequently mentioned during the story. I enjoyed the quote, “I wanted instead to be in the silent activity of a good book to observe and feel it” This was a good book, and I enjoyed the silent activity of reading it.

I read an any copy of the novel on NetGalley, UKUK, the book is published in the UK on the 11th of January 2024 by penguin general, UK – fig tree

This review will appear on NetGalley, UK, Goodreads and my book, blog bio, et cetera books.wordpress.com. After publication it will also appear an Amazon UK.

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This narrative unfolds around the lives of two Libyan men, Khaled and Mustafa, who forge a connection at the age of 18 while studying at Edinburgh University—an esteemed opportunity for their families. The story intricately explores the experiences of these men, their families, and the tumultuous events transpiring in their home country.

Khaled, cautioned by his father, opts to forge an independent path, avoiding involvement with groups reporting back to Libya. However, Mustafa, impassioned by his convictions against the regime, persuades Khaled to join him in traveling to London for a demonstration. The protest takes a tragic turn as both men and fellow demonstrators are shot, leading to a complex situation. Branded as traitors by their university peers, they feel stranded, unable to return to Libya or resume their studies.

Mustafa eventually returns to Libya to contribute to changing the political landscape, while Khaled remains in London, becoming a teacher. The story unfolds across the years, portraying the challenges and consequences faced by these characters. While the narrative presents a compelling exploration of trauma and personal struggles, some readers may find certain sections lengthy and challenging. It's a poignant reminder of the difficulties of empathising with individuals traumatised by their own country's circumstances.

This is a first for me by the author and one I enjoyed and I would read more of their work. The book cover is eye-catching and appealing and would spark my interest if in a bookshop. Thank you to the author, publisher and Netgalley for this ARC.

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A story of the intertwining of two Libyan men who met when they were 18, Khaled and Mustafa. They met while at Edinburgh University which was an honour for the families to have their sons studying abroad. The story revolves around these men, their families and the terrible things in their own country. Khaled is warned by his father not to become too involved in any group who are reporting back to Libya and to furrow his own path which he does. Mustafa feels strongly about the regime in their country and they decide, Khaled with persuasion, to travel to London to demonstrate. This does not go well and some demonstrators are shot including the two of them. One of the police is shot dead and they now are in a mess. Students at the university broadcast they are traitors and because of this they feel they cannot return to Libya or indeed back to University. Eventually Mustafa does return to Libya to help try and change the political situation but Khaled stays in London and teaches at a local school. The story continues through the years but I found it quite difficult to read in some ways. Possibly too longwinded in parts. It is difficult to put yourself in the shoes of others especially ones traumatized by their own country. It was a little too slow for me as a novel and I did lose concentration a little. On saying this it is a must read book to show us how lucky we are in life

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Many people will know of the Libyan Embassy siege which took place in 1984 London, where peaceful protestors were gunned down from the Embassy building resulting in the death of a police officer. Matar's latest novel is told from the perspective of Khaled, a literature student at Edinburgh who attends the protest with his friend Mustafa. Both young men are seriously injured, but perhaps worse still, they are unable to return home or to tell the truth to their families. Khaled and Mustafa build new lives in the UK and befriend Hosam, an author. When the Arab Spring begins in 2011, the three friends must decide if they want to return and fight.

Khaled is a sympathetic character and there are plenty of interesting supporting characters too. Matar has a nice, easy to read style, and the story flows well. I liked the focus on friendship rather than romantic relationships - there aren't enough books about the former and too many about the latter.

Plot wise it isn't the most exciting - I kept waiting for something more defining and dramatic to happen. But other than the Libyan Embassy shooting, which happens quite early on, there isn't really anything else thrilling or mysterious. It is a nicely constructed story about a character I liked, and it was pleasant enough reading it, but it lacked a strong 'hook' to pull the reader deeper into the narrative and emotionally engage them.

If you are interested in Libya or North Africa more broadly and want to read fiction with that theme, it's certainly worth reading. It's probably not one for thriller fans, as it's not a plot driven book. If you like character driven stories then again it's worth a read.

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🇱🇾 REVIEW 🇱🇾

My Friends by Hisham Matar
Publishing Date: 11th January 2024
Thank you @penguinukbooks and @netgalley for the e-ARC

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5/5

📝 - Khaled has grown up in Benghazi with a loving Libyan family, but upon hearing a short story read over a news broadcast, all he wants to do is study literature. He finds himself at Edinburgh University, making a few close friends, as protests against Qaddafi’s dictatorship increase. After stories of journalists and outspoken poets and literary figures being kidnapped by the Libyan government, even Khaled’s relationship with his family back in Benghazi becomes strained. We follow Khaled, Mustafa, and later, the writer of the short story that affected Khaled’s life so deeply as their lives intertwine and the situation in Libya develops.

💭 - This was a truly brilliant story, and one I recommend everyone to pick up in the new year. Despite being a work of fiction, it reads like an autobiography, with all the emotion so raw and obvious, enhanced by the first person narration. The characters are complex, flawed, but beautiful and the relationships between them so realistic. Tender friendships, arguments, grief, isolation all connecting into such a deep network. I also felt like I learnt so much from this book, things that I’m surprised I had never heard about before.

If you’re someone who enjoys stories from different and underrepresented cultures, and the possibility to learn something new as you read, I highly recommend this one.

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