‘Kismet’ by Amina Akhtar – Highly Recommended

There are some books that you know, from the first few pages, are your sort of book, in the same way that you recognise when you’ve met one of those rare individuals whose company you will enjoy because you share a way of looking at the world. For me, Kismet was one of those books. Here’s what I wrote when I was only 15% in:

“I think this is going to be fun. I like the storytelling style – light touches, swift impressions, a bit of humour, a bit of angst. The set up of a newly self-empowered American Born Pakistani woman, raised in New York by her abusive, predatory aunt and now following her new, rich white friend and Life Coach to Sedona to become part of the ‘Wellness through crystals, yoga and mediation‘ culture, provides fertile ground. And those ravens…”

To my surprise, the book had a lot more to it than I’d expected and was a lot stranger than the publisher’s summary suggested.

At the start, I thought I was reading a well-observed, low-key satire giving an American-born Pakistani woman’s take on being the only brown woman living in a town obsessed with mystical energies and wellness but where, despite Rumi quotes on the wall and the ubiquitous use of namaste (usually mispronounced) as a greeting, explaining that you are Muslim and Pakistani and not Hindu and Indian earns you suspicion (Are you one of the bad Muslims?) and confusion (There’s a difference?).

O.K, the opening scene did involve the discovery of predated, dismembered body parts, displayed like a piece of art within decomp smelling distance of a hiking trail, but I was more focused on our heroine, Ronnie’s, discomfort at being in the outdoors and having to hike up hill than I was with the whole severed head thing.

It was only when I got to the first passages in the Before timeline that described Ronnie’s life with the tyrannical, unloving aunt who raised her after the sudden death of both Ronnie’s parents, that I realised that this wasn’t going to be just a comedy of manners. Ronnie was more than a mirror to hold up to a town that didn’t recognise either its privilege or its prejudice. She was a woman with scars and secrets and a lot of practice in hiding both from the people around her.

Then there were the ravens amping up the woo-woo factor into something that you’d expect to find in a horror novel rather than a thriller. If the ravens work for you, the book will work for you. If you can open your imagination wide enough to let the ravens in, you’re in for a great read. If they just press your WTF? button and get in your way, this probably isn’t the book for you. What I liked most about the ravens was that I started off seeing them as possible portents or maybe signs of mental illness and ended up seeing them as, well, ravens. You know – smart birds with sharp beaks and wicked talons that mob animals and people that they don’t like.

Kismet is a decent thriller that ticks the boxes for a serial killer story: highish body count, gruesome and varied ways of killing, tension around who the next victim will be and tantalising hints at who the killer is. The pacing works and the ending is a doozy.

It’s also an amusing satire: a witty fun read, that holds that holy trinity of unconscious entitlement, cultural insulation and racism up to the light and makes fun of it without diminishing its inherent nastiness or its violent consequences.

Best of all though, Kismet is an unashamedly gothic book. It thinks big, dark, bold thoughts and dares you to keep up.

I had a great time with this book. I hope it finds an audience who will love it as much as I do.

Amina Akhtar is an American novelist currently based out of Sedona, Arizona.

Before becoming a full-time novelist, she spent over fifteen years as a fashion writer and editor, working at Vogue, Elle.com, Style.com, NYTimes.com, and NYMag.com.

She published her first novel #FashionVictim in 2018. Kismet is her second novel.

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