A Small Fortune

Photo: Ben Goldstein/Studio D

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A Small Fortune
384 pages; Riverhead
Harris—the often charmingly clueless Everyman at the center of Rosie Dastgir's debut novel, A Small Fortune—could use a break. Having failed in his marriage, his career, and his ambition to fashion himself a successful British gentleman, Harris is living, surrounded by fellow Pakistani immigrants, in the type of depressed northern England mill town that "he had once counted himself lucky to shun." Still, when he receives a windfall—£53,000 in a divorce settlement—he's compelled, as a devout Muslim, to use the money to help others. You know what they say about no good deed going unpunished; misunderstandings ensue with relatives in both Pakistan and England. Harris's courtship of Dr. Farrah, a progressive Pakistani-born widow and Shakespeare scholar, makes for gently comic moments, as does his distress over his college-age daughter, Alia, and her thoroughly Western attitude. ("She spoke of 'needing space' and, though he didn't dare ask her what that space was for, he harbored painful suspicions.") East-West tensions play out most explicitly in the life of Rashid, Harris's immigrant cousin who embraces the views of a radical imam. But even the holy man is no stereotype. Ultimately, for Rashid and everyone else in this beguiling novel, culture, ideology, and even spiritual beliefs are trumped by the universal pull of family.
— Karen Holt