by Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi
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Pub Date 11 Jul 2023 | Archive Date 18 Jul 2023
Zando Projects, Gillian Flynn Books
A darkly comic, speculative debut following an adrift Pakistani translator in London who attends a mysterious language school which boasts complete fluency in just ten days, but at a secret, sinister cost.
Anisa Ellahi dreams of being a translator of “great works of literature,” but instead mostly spends her days subtitling Bollywood movies, living off her parents’ generous allowance, and discussing the “underside of life” with her best friend, Naima. Anisa’s mediocre white boyfriend, Adam, only adds to her growing sense of inadequacy with his savant-level aptitude for languages, successfully leveraging his expansive knowledge into an enviable career. But when Adam learns to speak Urdu with native fluency practically overnight, Anisa forces him to reveal his secret.
Adam begrudgingly tells Anisa about The Centre, an elite, invite-only program that guarantees near-instant fluency in any language. Skeptical but intrigued, Anisa enrolls—stripped of her belongings, contact with the outside world, and bodily autonomy—and emerges ten days later fluent in German. As Anisa enmeshes herself further within The Centre, seduced by all that it’s made possible, she soon realizes the true cost of its services.
By turns dark, funny, and surreal, and with twists page-turning and shocking, The Centre takes the reader on a journey through Karachi, London, and New Delhi, interrogating the sticky politics of language, translation, and appropriation with biting specificity, and ultimately asking: what is success really worth?
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 146 members
Thank you to NetGalley, Zando Projects, and Ayesha for this eARC.
My rating for this book is 4.5/5 stars; the only thing I missed is some more substance to the ending.
I often fear I've read just about every possible crime/mystery premise, and while I know this is an irrational fear, I'm still thrilled whenever a story truly surprises me, and this one definitely did.
This novel tells a story of a young Pakistani translator, an immigrant in London, who is somewhat lost in her life and sometimes in her values. After a long romantic relationship, her partner tells her about a seemingly magical language school and gives her an opportunity to experience it for herself. Doubtful, she enters the world of mystery she can't truly comprehend on her own, but all is revealed through her friendship with the school's manager.
I loved the complexity of Anisa, the main character. She is one of the most realistic women I've read: feminist and class conscious, yet comfortable in some aspects of the system she lives in; leaning to the selfish side, yet selfless when needed. Through her, the novel discuses the intricacy of language(s) and their involvement in our comprehension of the world, feminist, race and class issues, and everyday confusion about one's place in the world.
The plot is compelling, with some unexpected twists to spice it up and send chills down the spine, and the atmosphere detailed and layered: modern, sleek world, so close to the old and whimsical.
I cannot wait to see the released book and will definitely recommend it to everyone in need of some mystery.
This was such a good book! As a multilingual person, I can relate to so much in this book.
The book is about Anisa who is a translator of Bollywood movies. She feels unfulfilled in her career. While dating Adam - a fellow translator who speaks many languages completely fluently - she finds out about The Centre, an intensive language training school. In 10 days you are guaranteed native fluency, IF you follow the protocol exactly. There is complete secrecy surrounding the Centre.
The book contains a lot of interesting observations about language and identity, as well as about the immigrant experience. Anisa has lived in the UK for a long time, but there is still a sense of otherness.
Of course this is fiction, and as I read it, I obviously found myself wondering how exactly this language training was meant to work. I don't want to spoil anything, but the great reveal was really quite something. Not what I expected (at all!) but sure. That's a great story. I was really wondering what the author had in mind, and this was a really interesting idea, tying in the backgrounds of the 4 founders.
I read a LOT and this was a really different and original book. Well done!! I can't wait to read more from Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi.
Many thanks to NetGalley and Zando Projects for providing a free review copy in exchange for an honest review.
WOW I could not put this down. Literary thriller with a touch of horror, but mostly postcolonial commentary and excellent st0rytelling. It'll be a hard one to describe because I don't want to give much away, but I will be recommending this as a propulsive summer read with fabulous narrative voice and structure.
This was an fantastic debut and nothing like I've read before. Funny and sad at times but a really great story that is well written with lots of sass and character. Brilliant xx
I’m sorry for my crass language, but this book was badass. I don’t think I’ve read anything quite so unique in the last few years. I took so much from this book. It was fun, I was educated, I escaped into someone else’s life. It was wonderful.
The Centre is a genre bending piece of feminist fiction that explores identity, language, conformity, class, and even touches on intergenerational trauma. It feels like contemporary fiction for a lot of the book, but it also has some of the suspense and intrigue of a mystery, and some gory moments indicative of horror.
Our main character Anisa is a Pakistani woman living in London who works as a translator. She comes from a wealthy family but is somewhat dissatisfied with the unextraordinary life she has created for herself. When her white boyfriend tells her about The Centre, a place shrouded in secrecy where you can go for two weeks to become 100% fluent in a new language, she jumps at the opportunity.
● I think the beginning is incredible! I sat down and read the first 30% in one sitting and was just dying to know more details about The Centre and what made it special. I was immediately brainstorming theories but at the same time eager to learn more about the main character and her family background.
● The author does a great job turning this book into a slow descent of darkness. I noticed the tone slowly changing through till the end, which just made it flow really seamlessly and hold my attention.
● I really enjoyed the female friendships in this book. The MC has two significant female friendships that we spend a lot of time exploring the nuances of - and they are each very different from each other. They aren't always positive or healthy or desirable, but it was made clear at least one was really worth fighting for. It was refreshing to see a book that focused on the importance of female friendships instead of the all too popular romantic side arc that we see very often.
● I love the direction it took at the end, although I know a lot of people probably won't. I do wish the ending had been explored more - but I was shocked and fairly satisfied.
● This is probably very picky of me, but there were a few random lines that really did not fit with the rest of the text that completely threw me off. For example, there is a moment where the MC literally says "But whatever. Broken heart emoji," as part of her first person narration. Don't let this turn you off from reading it because it doesn't happen often - but I just found it to be completely random and made no sense with the image I had created of this character in my head.
● The middle felt long, and I think that is because the pacing was a bit off. Maybe I am just slow and this was more predictable than I found it to be, but I wish there had been more clues or like smaller reveals to hold our attention throughout the book (instead of one big reveal towards the end). By about 50% I was feeling impatient and just wanted to know more about The Centre already.
I really enjoyed this book overall and I am excited to see what else the author creates in the future!
*Thank you to Netgalley and Zando for the free digital ARC in exchange for an honest review*