Hana Khan Carries On

by Uzma Jalaluddin

It’s really quite wonderful when you have high expectations about a book because it contains, from the description, your own special brand of catnip: enemies-to-lovers a la Pride & Prejudice, competing halal restaurants, social justice turmoil, and a radical shotgun toting Aunty with a secret, and it delivers.

I labeled this romance-contemporary, but probably it’s more of a women’s fiction story. (Contrasted with Sonali Dev’s Pride and Prejudice and Other Flavors which is also about a desi family with a restaurant but is more traditionally focused on the romance, this is more focused on Hana’s coming of age as an adult visible minority in Toronto)

We meet Hana Khan in the middle of a dead-end radio internship about to be forced into a cultural-apologizer role she hates, faced with not-wrong criticisms about her mother’s beloved restaurant’s outdatedness, and barely scraping by emotionally with the help of an anonymous fan of her anonymous podcast.

A new restaurant is opening in her little Golden Crescent business district and the owner is a rich boy she can’t help being simultaneously attracted to (this is a sweet romance that reaches the level of hand-holding, not even a kiss) and angered by. This challenge to her family’s livelihood means Hana will have to join the local business association, and also causes her to commit some unsavory acts of her own.

Even non romance fans should read this. It has some heavy handed tropes– Hana and her cousin are accosted by racist troublemakers at a tourist attraction, and some hate-filled protestors mar the beginning of a local street festival in a way USA citizens can easily imagine. But the choices Hana is forced to make about her career because of well-meaning mainstream Canadian white bosses, the racist protestors, and her cultural affinity for extended family alongside other characters in the Muslim and Arab community (two other side characters with important screen time are a non-desi Arab named Youseff who is one of Hana’s best friends and her fellow radio intern Thomas who is a Christian Arab) begin to tap the rich depth of experience of peoples often portrayed as a monolithic whole.

Despite my longing for steam in romance, it would not have been appropriate in this book, and even without it I would follow Jalaluddin into any other story she chooses to tell.