Warning: The novel reviewed in this post, Little Maryam by Hamid Baig, contains depictions of violence and sub-par prison conditions. If you wish to avoid such depictions, proceed with caution.
Like yesterday, I have two new books to bring you. Unlike yesterday, today’s books are not short, but both are compelling enough that you won’t want to put them down until you’ve finished the entire book. The first book I’m reviewing today is a romance novel called Little Maryam by Hamid Baig.
We all have parts of our pasts that we regret, a fight that shouldn’t have been picked or an opportunity missed. Some of us have more of these near-misses than others; even the rich and famous have them. In fact, the rich and famous might experience even more of these than the average family man/woman, which is why they keep themselves constantly busy, whether they like the attention it gets them or not. Such is the case with the protagonist of Little Maryam, Dr. Saadiq Haider.
Saadiq Haider was a normal boy growing up in India. Incredibly smart—a downright genius, even—but a normal boy you probably wouldn’t know from Adam. The son of a well-loved gardener, Saadiq spent most of his days helping his father with chores—and then he met Maryam, the young, enchanting daughter of the Colonel for whom Saadiq and his father worked. Even though they were still but children, it was almost love at first sight. As a young adult, Saadiq was accused of killing his best friend, and his life took an entirely different path, one which led him away from his Little Maryam.
Fast-forward more than twenty years, when fate has finally decided to send Saadiq back to India. What he doesn’t expect is the nosy little American journalist, Anne Miller, who does not stop pestering him until he tells her why he’s going back to India. And, like all roads lead to Rome, everything in Saadiq’s life truly does lead back to Little Maryam.
Why is Saaqid returning to India, and what does his return have to do with Maryam? What really happened when Saaqid’s best friend died? Most importantly, what will happen between Saaqid and Maryam now that Anne Miller has become attached to their star-crossed romance?
I have to warn you right now, this story is not one of those “goody-goody, happily-ever-after” sorts of romances. It’s a little more like a Nicholas Sparks novel, although it’s not even quite that. It feels more real in its depiction of Saadiq and Maryam’s romance, even though it does include typical romance tropes such as a socially-taboo relationship, unwavering love spanning decades, and even a tragedy (I can’t say anything more due to spoilers).
Perhaps my favorite element of this novel is the fact that I never knew quite what to expect until Hamid wanted the reader to know. I’ve said time and time again that I notice patterns so readily that very few twists in books and film take me by surprise, even as I enjoy the ride. With Hamid’s work, however, I found myself not figuring twists out until a few pages—never more than ten, I think—before Hamid revealed them himself. I love that this book is thrilling from a world-wind romance and a realistic amount of mystery and surprises.
A close second has to be the back-and-forth between Saadiq and Anne. I appreciate the romance and connection between Saadiq and Maryam, and it’s certainly the central plot point of the story. Regardless, the relationship that develops between Saadiq and Anne in the frame narrative—which later becomes entwined with the main narrative—reveals a lot about what Saadiq became while also introducing a rather minor, although necessary, character (Anne). They are two very different people but their humor and human compassion bring them closer. The investment Anne gets in Saadiq’s relationship with Maryam may seem random to the average reader, but for any writer, journalists included, it will make perfect sense; Anne is a writer, after all.
For the first part of the book, I wasn’t quite sure if Anne’s part in the story was necessary. I loved reading their interactions and I thought that Anne was an effective first-person narrator, but at times I wondered why Hamid didn’t just use Saadiq as his narrator. Then the second part of the novel began and it all tied together. The ending I found to be especially clever, given Anne’s occupation as a writer (journalist in particular). If nothing else can be said for Hamid’s writing, he knows how to weave an intricate, multi-layered plot without a single loose end.
As a romance novel, you have to expect the read to be emotional. It was. However, unlike the stereotypical romance novel, these emotions are not restricted to the main romantic relationship. I could feel the love between Saadiq and his father, as well as Maryam and her father; I cringed at the rivalry between Saadiq and Ritesh, initially hating him as much as Saadiq did. Of course, it wouldn’t the novel wouldn’t have felt realistic if I hadn’t hated Saadiq at times, too. His violent tendencies inspired fear, anger, and annoyance in me; sometimes I wanted to just hold Saadiq back and say, “You moron, that’s not how you impress a girl!” or “This is going to bite you in the butt later, you twit!” I have to credit Hamid’s beautiful writing for these emotions.
The book isn’t perfect. As with many indie books and books from small presses, I noticed some minor grammatical issues: missing words, misplaced or missing punctuation, etc. Some of the confusion may be due to a regional difference between the English Hamid uses and the English I use. Still, not all of them can be brushed off as that. Fortunately, these proofreading errors weren’t so glaring that they detracted from my reading experience.
At times I found it hard to believe Anne’s reactions to Saadiq’s story as well. For the most part, I agreed with her reaction. After all, how often is it that a Nobel Prize winner spills his guts to you when he normally doesn’t talk about his past? Other times, Anne’s own disbelief of her own reactions made up for the slight lack of believability. Nevertheless, there were parts when I thought, “Geez, you get invested quickly” or “Man, back off, give the guy some space!” These moments did not make Anne entirely unbelievable, but I rolled my eyes at them at the same time.
Overall, I think that Little Maryam by Hamid Baig is a wonderful book. I am especially surprised by the quality due to the fact that it’s a romance novel. (Yes, yes, I know, I can be elitist and hypocritical at times.) My only true qualm is that a little more proofreading needs to be done. Other than that, I recommend this book for romance lovers. Even those who don’t like romances will find value in the other aspects of the plot and the relationships among Saadiq and the minor characters, not to mention Anne’s role in the entire charade. It may be called “Little Maryam,” but she is far from the only draw for this book!