BOOK REVIEW: Ayesha’s Gift – A Daughter’s Search for the Truth about Her Father by Martin Sixsmith
Simon & Schuster
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo
Non-Fiction / History / Biography
Ayesha’s Gift is a book that could also be called “Ayesha’s Curse” because it is brimming with sorrow. It’s the fictionalised account of the real-life events that saw Philomena author and former BBC foreign correspondent, Martin Sixsmith assist in investigating the death of a British-Pakistani man. The book is ultimately a rather multi-faceted detective tale where a murder is solved, cultures collide and a kind of quiet respect, empathy and trust is forged between two unlikely main characters.
The book grew from these facts, but it is not a factual documentary. The character named Martin is not me, although I share many of his thoughts and sorrows. Ayesha is not Ayesha, because the real Ayesha insisted that her identity be protected. As you read the pages that follow you will understand why all the main characters have been changed, locations altered and events rewritten.
The novel begins with Sixsmith enjoying the success of his book, Philomena, one that was adapted into an Oscar-nominated film starring Dame Judi Dench, and comedian Steve Coogan. It is in the wake of this that Sixsmith is contacted by a number of women who experienced similar things to the titular Philomena, who embarked on a fifty year search for her son after he was forcibly adopted away from her. But the tale he found most intriguing was the one told to him by a resilient British-Pakistani woman.
Ayesha Rahman was born in Pakistan and raised in Lancashire. She is a strong, Cambridge-educated woman who runs a successful IT company in London. She was having trouble reconciling some recent events involving her family – namely, her father’s death in Pakistan. The local police had ruled this a suicide, but Rahman was unconvinced that this was the case and believed that there was foul play and that it was possibly a murder. She had Sixsmith and a private investigator look into things with the aim of finding out the truth behind what really happened.
This story is a complex one, not least because of the power, corruption and lies that are part of everyday life in Pakistan, an environment that Sixsmith has likened to a kind of lawless, Wild West style country.
Karachi is a city of havoc, misruled by violence, patronage and greed. It holds impressive, unenviable records – for murder, kidnapping, corruption and torture. Three decades of political civil war have left its inhabitants looking over their shoulders and its streets littered with bodies.
In order to properly investigate the alleged murder of Ibrahim Rahman, Ayesha and Martin are forced to confront some unsavoury questions. Such things include whether her father was complicit in corruption or other illegal activities in Pakistan. And if this proves to be the case, how do you reconcile such findings with your previously-held views about a parent and your own identity. The idea of questioning your culture, beliefs and identity is an interesting one and at times is reminiscent of the book, Looking for Alibrandi in which the lead character grapples with being a second generation Australian of Italian descent.
Of her struggles, Ayesha says:
At the same time, I’m having to reject my Pakistani side. As a family we’re in no-man’s-land. We don’t want to be Pakistani because we’ve been treated so badly over there: it’s all about money and there’s no sympathy or value for human life. And then there’s rejection from the British authorities. I feel in a complete muddle.
Ayesha’s story is a complex and high-stakes one that has repercussions for the titular character and the investigator as they bond over the events that transpire plus some hard truths and heartbreak. Sixsmith proves a compassionate and respectful narrator and this story is an engrossing one about love, loss, culture and identity and it shows how important it is to have a friend’s helping hand whilst in the midst of tragedy.
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