Author: Uzma Jalaluddin
Publ: Harper Avenue, 2021, ISBN: 9781443461467
Uzma Jalaluddin is a South Asian Canadian author, high school English teacher, and columnist for the Toronto Star. She is the author of Ayesha at Last (2018), a modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Jalaluddin is also a member of #TheSisterhoodOfThePen, a group consisting of SK Ali, author of Love From A to Z (2019), and Ausma Zehanat Khan, author of A Deadly Divide (2019), who are driving the new trend of South Asian Muslim women’s writing.
Hana Khan Carries On (2021), Jalaluddin’s latest novel, is a romantic comedy that takes place in Toronto, with the Golden Crescent neighbourhood being the focus and setting for much of the story’s events. The novel’s main character, Hanaan, or Hana for short, is a young Muslim woman with a passion for radio and storytelling, skills that she develops through her podcast, Ana’s Brown Girl Rambles, which she hosts anonymously. Hana’s family also owns a halal restaurant, Three Sisters Biryani Poutine, in the Golden Crescent neighbourhood that her mother has run for the past fifteen years. While working with her mother, her older sister, and her brother-in-law at the family restaurant, Hana simultaneously pursues her career in radio. Mindful that her competitive internship at a Toronto radio station is coming to an end, Hana is eager to be recognized by her supervisors for her ability to meaningfully pursue and present diverse stories. But when Hana’s career opportunities threaten to conflict with her values, the once-straightforward pathway she had imagined for her further work in radio becomes uncertain. As barriers unexpectedly emerge in her personal and professional life, Hana is forced to recalibrate her expectations of those around her and decide how to respond.
With a new restaurant serving halal food, ‘Wholistic Grill’, moving in across the street from ‘Three Sisters Biryani Poutine’, and family members both unknown and little known to her arriving from Delhi as guests in her home, Hana’s burdens continue to mount. Hana fears that their small, well-loved, but somewhat dated, family restaurant might not be able to compete with the new, upscale restaurant moving in across the street. After being subjected to condescending treatment by Aydin, the owner of the new restaurant, and Aydin’s domineering father, Hana is put off. Knowing that ‘Three Sisters Biryani Poutine’ has provided stability to her family for years and that it has long helped build community within the Golden Crescent area, Hana is hurt to hear about some of the more openly capitalistic intentions driving the creation of ‘Wholistic Grill’. Determined to see her family’s restaurant succeed, Hana attempts to deter others from supporting the new establishment, both overtly and secretly.
However, with the Golden Crescent neighbourhood festival coming up, one that Hana and Aydin both imagine will be crucial to their respective restaurant’s success, the two must work together closely. Though Aydin’s father makes it known to all that he expects Aydin to initiate the gentrification of the Golden Crescent, it soon becomes clear to Hana that these goals are not necessarily shared by the son. As she gets to know Aydin more and her disdain towards him wanes, Hana struggles with developing romantic feelings for the person who she previously considered a rival. At the same time, an incidence of white supremacist violence faced by Hana, Aydin and Rashid, Hana’s cousin from Delhi, in downtown Toronto creates fears over the safety of the community’s celebratory event. As videos of the attack circulate online, unwanted attention is drawn to the Golden Crescent neighbourhood festival as a site for further racially motivated aggression. By acquainting readers with Islamophobic, misogynistic micro- and macro-aggressions, the novel provides a critical assessment of the Canadian culture that perpetuates and protects white supremacy, helping to dismantle and expose the notion of Canada as a place of social progress, safety, and inclusivity for all persons as something manufactured.
Jalaluddin brilliantly intervenes the tropes of romantic comedy with themes that focus on white supremacy, racism, Islamophobia, and intergenerational relationships that empower women. Over the course of the novel, Hana discovers more about her family history, specifically about the experiences of women in her family. These stories bring perspective to Hana’s various struggles and help to clarify her intentions. Since the Canadian social, cultural, and physical landscape that Jalaluddin portrays is ever demanding of Muslim women, the importance of ensuring that the lessons produced by multi-generational dialogues centre truth and accountability, as opposed to mainly perpetuating ways of coping with inequity onto next generations, is emphasized through Hana’s relationships with the women in her family. With strengthened confidence in her personal and professional ethics, and with support from those who appreciate her talents, Hana advances in her career path, exemplifying integrity in storytelling and embracing the relationships around her.
In Hana Khan Carries On, Jalaluddin centres empowering stories of triumphs over patriarchal, colonial, and racist expectations, thus demonstrating the cumulative value of women’s stories across generations. The novel also speaks to issues of exploitation, responsible storytelling, and of performative, or compromised, allyships. Jalaluddin has a captivating sense of humour which enlivens the novel and keeps the reader engaged and entertained. Revealing the pitfalls of a multicultural society, the novel positions the voices of South Asian Canadian Muslim communities. It is being developed for television by Amazon Studios and Kaling International, Mindy Kaling’s production company. Hana Khan Carries On is a must-read for those with interests in romantic comedy, Muslim narratives, and issues of race and gender.