The Good Children by Roopa Farooki

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The Good Children by Roopa Farooki

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A captivating story of a Pakistani family over three generations as they grow up and leave home (or are forced to stay). As richly conveyed as their culture is, the overriding factor is that these are characters that remind us of us.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: June 2014
Publisher: Tinder Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0755383429

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The Saddeq family are an example of success for their friends and neighbours in Lahore. Mr Saddeq is a doctor with his own practice, sons Sully and Jakie are studying medicine in the US and UK respectively and daughters Mae and Lana have made good marriage matches. However the four 'good' children would view their success differently. Each reacts differently to the futures that their caring father and calculating mother have mapped out for them and plough their own furrows as far as they're permitted but the gravitational pull of home remains a constant through their lives and also, to some extent, for the generation that follows.

Pakistani/British author Roopa Farooki has the mastery of the written word in her veins; her father was the late novelist Nasir Ahmad Farooki. The gift's manifestation in Roopa is evidenced by previous books that include 2012 Orange-long-listed The Flying Man and now this, her insightful, beautifully written third novel, cementing her reputation even more firmly.

Roopa has been compared with authors like Andrea Levy and Zadie Smith. While accepting this as a compliment, Roopa is quick to point out that there is a difference: Roopa seeks to write of universal moments and tendencies that unite us rather than dwell on cultural differences. I can definitely see what she means, but the cultural element is not ignored; it's there in the background deepening adding another layer of thought-provoking enjoyment.

Indeed, Roopa doesn't shy away from the way in which boys are traditionally raised differently from girls on the Indian sub-continent. In fact Mae and Lana are brought up so traditionally their parents arrange their marriages (although Mae finds a way to fight back against her incredibly controlling mother). The boys, on the other hand, are given the freedom to fly even if the direction of flight has been predetermined for them. However, as Roopa intends, there is much about the lives of the four children that ring true in our lives (if that's not too presumptive a statement for me to make).

Sully, for instance, feels more insecure as he ages. He may be the eldest but it's Jakie who's designated 'golden boy', although not by Jakie's choice. Indeed, Jakie eventually embarks on a romantic relationship that risks isolating him from his parents rather than drawing him closer should they ever discover it.

As for the girls, Lana is the meek peacemaker, wanting to make everyone happy. Mae on the other hand seeks independence and realises that the only way to obtain it is by manipulating her mother's dreams to her own benefit.

The children take it in turns to narrate the story through the two chronologically-divided sections. The boys take the first part, 1938 until 1962, guiding us through the bloody Indian partition and the beginning of their lives abroad. The girls join in the second section, 1961 until 1997, which takes them to middle-age, the arrival of their own children and a couple of funerals. We also smile and nod at the way that even adult-children revert to their family positions on going back home.

The novel is totally absorbing, written with that expert touch that unites lovers of literary fiction with those who just love a good story. The episodes, both lived and remembered, make compulsive reading. These episodic moments, be they the way in which Mae's wedding was ruined in an unpredictable manner to the Christmas child Jakie comforted in hospital and Sully's faltering steps towards his first serious relationship in the US remain memorable making 416 pages seem way too short.

When all's said and done, Roopa's talent has ensured that her objective has been achieved. While we get a better understanding from her descriptions of cultural differences, Roopa also brings these characters alive in our imaginations. For, in the end, the Saddeqs aren't a disembodied distant nationality, they're people like us and we empathise as easily as we enjoy.

(Thank you so much Tinder Press for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: It would be remiss of me if I raved about Roopa this much and then didn't direct you towards The Flying Man. If you want to explore other's comparisons, we would also heartily recommend White Teeth by Zadie Smith and The Long Song by Andrea Levy.

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Booklists.jpg The Good Children by Roopa Farooki is in the Top Ten Literary Fiction Books of 2014.


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