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Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi

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Includes the name: Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi

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The Centre: A Novel (2023) 158 eksemplarer

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I can't really decide if this was weird and good or just weird. It was several genres at once, a mystery with bizarre horror elements but also about language and culture and female friends and feminism across cultures. I liked all the things it was but it felt disjointed at times and I think the horror of the mystery was diluted by so many of the other parts. It needed to commit to just one or two things and it would have been stronger but I liked her work and I think I would read more and see where she goes next.… (mere)
amyem58 | 4 andre anmeldelser | Dec 31, 2023 |
4.5 rounded up. This was what I wanted Babel to be, it feels like a mix of that and Catherine House, but much better. How can you learn a language to beyond fluency in ten days? You might have to absorb more than vocabulary. The relationships are real and complex and the subject matter is catnip.
KallieGrace | 4 andre anmeldelser | Dec 8, 2023 |
*Some spoilers*

The Centre of the title is a mysterious place. It's an organization that's so top-secret, no one knows about it even though it's a huge complex just outside London and does the unbelievable job of teaching anyone a language at native fluency level in TWO WEEKS. Hmm. Okay, so our protagonist Anisa thinks when she finds out about this miraculous place from her ex, I'll go. She's a translator, see, making a paltry living (even though she comes from a wealthy Pakistani background). So off she goes, signs all the non-disclosures etc., and settles into the immersion routine en route to learning German.

And if our good author had managed to keep in this lane, something more satisfying than this khichdi might have emerged. See how I threw in a random Hindi/Urdu word with no explanation? That's what Anisa does constantly. I don't get it. Is everyone just expected to go along with this? I for one find it extremely annoying when foreign expressions are chucked in willy-nilly.

But the translation/language musings don't last much longer than the beginning. There's Anisa's best friend Naima and her new man to criticize. This man, described as "woke, really woke" then says something objectionable on the very next page. Meanwhile Anisa's also ranting about her 'othering' at the hands of the English. She does have some interesting things about language too here, but those peter out because then she also needs to rant about men. In this way: "Men are trash."

Now let's get back to the Centre itself. It's posh and everything, but obviously something weird is going on. HOW exactly are they achieving their teaching miracle? Anisa strikes up a friendship with the Centre director, an Indian woman named Shiba. After pages of description of their growing closeness with hints of sexuality coyly woven in, Anisa finally does some spying and finds out...what exactly? Just a shade of something sinister, but she's done and leaves the Centre.

By this point I was tired of the darting about from theme to theme. I was grasping at which thread I was to follow. Suddenly, Anisa's talking about her longing for her dead mum, which comes out of nowhere. Yet she NEVER discusses this with Shiba, whose mum is ALSO dead. Finally Anisa's being whisked off to Delhi, India, to meet Shiba's family when Anisa confronts her about the Centre. Shiba's dad- creepily insisting upon being called by his first name instead of Uncle by Anisa- is the brain of the whole deal. There are his three business partners too. They start explaining the mysterious goings on without actually explaining anything. Never mind if there might be a little cannibalism going on. But here too I was confused. Not least because Anisa then simply goes along with all this. THEN she has a sexual encounter with Shiba's father, in their house, because...why? (Immediately after, she runs up to Shiba's room, to 'wait for her.')

Have I even covered everything, I wonder. Because I confess to skimming judiciously. The reading experience was a little odd; vast swathes were being covered without any real substance. The characters were jarringly inconsistent. They kept using buzzwords like 'emotional labor' and 'heteronormative' with no context. All the interesting bits about translating literature, the 'changing of selves' depending on which language one is speaking, the ACTUAL methods of the Centre: all these were shortchanged in favor of haring around trying to squeeze everything in.

Finally, the ending is weak and a cop-out. Not even 'meta' if that was the aim. I wanted to smack my forehead one more time against the admittedly very striking cover of my copy: thankfully I did not; it belongs to the library and I wish to return it pristine and post-haste in case someone else can attempt to enjoy the word-khichdi.
… (mere)
dmenon90 | 4 andre anmeldelser | Sep 8, 2023 |
Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi's The Centre was a wonderful pre-summer read. Not that it wouldn't be wonderful at other times, but that—at a time when I'm holding on by my fingernails trying to make it through the last few weeks of the academic year—it took me to a completely different, yet familiar world that engaged me and caught me up in a story in just the way I needed.

The completely different part has to do with the central conceit of the novel: a secretive company has designed a program that allows those willing to pay ($20,000 per language) to learn any language in just 10 days. Not learn as in master basic phrases for travel. Learn as in speak with fluency and sophistication. Assuming one had the money, who wouldn't want to go for it? The Centre, where this language instruction occurs offers a a rigidly structured program: learners may not speak to or acknowledge one another. They have three one-hour meditation sessions a day. They're fed fabulous food and live on a campus surrounding a beautiful garden. They also spend hours-long sessions each day listening to the voice of a single speaker of the desired language. At first, learners understand nothing, become bored, nap, grow frustrated, but at some point, suddenly, everything that native speaker says makes perfect sense.

Anisa, the central character and narrator, learns about The Centre from a soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend. Anyone who has used there services is allowed to tell one other person about them. If that person is assessed as "appropriate" they'll have the opportunity to become a learned. Anisa makes the cut, learning first German, then Russian. And she grows increasingly curious about how this system works. (Cue the unsettling, eerie music.)

The familiar part is Anisa herself. She's a wealthy Pakastani living in Britain, working to provide Urdu subtitles for Bollywood films. Her best friend, Naima, who works as a sort of new age guide, primarily for women of color providing readings, rituals, and workshops. While my life is substantially different from theirs, what feels familiar is the closeness they share, their long conversations, their reflection on their own lives, and the questions they ask. I genuinely enjoyed spending time with them.

The Centre and Anisha herself move forward along these parallel rails, one fantastical, the other warmly supportive, bouncing between uneasiness and simple comforts. The novel is next-to-impossible to put down. Anisa tells a great story, and one wants to experience it in its entirety. If you enjoy science fiction, not-too-gory horror, and/or "women's fiction" (a term I hate, but one that communicates what I mean), you're going to find The Centre a real gift. When you reach a point where you need some good distraction, turn to The Centre. Things may or may not end happily ever after, but you'll get the break you need.

I received a free electronic review copy of this title from the publisher; the opinions are my own.
… (mere)
Sarah-Hope | 4 andre anmeldelser | May 21, 2023 |




½ 3.5

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