How It Happened is the debut novel by Shazaf Fatima Haider, a brilliant young woman who lives in Karachi, Pakistan where her story is set. Our narrator, 16 year old Saleha relates the tales of her brother Haroon and sister Zeba’s complex routes to matrimony, while keeping the gnaw of her own inevitable destiny at bay.
The star character is the grand, old and very conservative Dadi, a betel chewing matriarch who is determined to see her grandchildren well married to good Shia families, before she dies, regardless of their happiness. Haroon, a very desirable young man, returned from America, with his MBA is the apple of Dadi’s eye, and it is on him that her obsession focuses most urgently. She must have her grandchildren married ahead of those of her arch rival, Quarrat Dadi, and to that end the family march to the homes of half a dozen ‘suitable’ girls. All are rejected and it emerges that Haroon has his own plan which eventually comes to fruition.
Dadi then turns her full attention to Zeba Baji, 25 and wilful. She is visited by a selection of suitors, the comedy rises and sparks fly as she falls for a Sunni Muslim.
How it Happened has been compared to Pride and Prejudice, with its rich array of characters. Certainly Dadi has a similarity to Mrs Bennett, but with far more control, intelligence and ability to strike fear. I’ll leave it to you to investigate further comparisons.
This book is a remarkable insight into the culture of the Indian Sub-Continent. Haider peppers her narrative with Hindustani and Hinglish words and while understanding them isn’t necessary to enjoy the book, I would have quite liked a crib list and when released in the UK it might be helpful. This has been my best read for a very long time and I can’t recommend it enough.
How It Happened by Shazaf Fatima Haider is published by Penguin Viking.
When I first met Shaz and she told me that she is a writer, my question was obvious. I was intrigued by her reply that her novel was about arranged marriage and during the following ten days, spending a lot of time in her company, I realised that her novel was guaranteed to be hilarious. It did not disappoint. It goes far beyond being a funny book, she tells of the tension between traditions and modernity in Pakistani society. Her book places her alongside the best writers of her generation.