Nov 242023
Zen – A rollercoaster tale of Zainab and Zainab! [Review]
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Title: Zen
Author: Shabnam Minwalla
Length: 608 pages
Type: Paperback
Publisher: Duckbill (Penguin Random House)
Age Recommendation: 13 years and above

Shabnam Minwalla masterfully crafts a potboiler combining romance, history, intrigue, and a dash of politics while the book switches effortlessly between two parallel storylines spanning decades.

We are introduced to the fierce Zainab (Zen) Currimji, a feisty teenager who battles the simmering Islamophobia in modern-day India and nurses a crush on a hunky Indian-American.

The other storyline is of Zen’s great-grandmother, the vivacious Zainab Essaji living in the 1930s Bombay. The namesake matriarch finds herself in the middle of a color-coded covert operation part of the freedom struggle and a smoldering romance with a mysterious revolutionary.

Modern-day Zen comes from an inter-faith family and crusades for social justice. She unwittingly finds herself in the middle of some sticky situations, thanks to the hyperactive media and some high-school drama. Throw in a big fat Indian wedding to add bling and glitz along with a budding teen romance and we are set for a fast-paced page-turner.

Shabnam Minwalla lures us into the sepia-tinted Bombay brimming with history: watching Devika Rani’s movies in Imperial Cinema and strolling along the Colaba Causeway at Christmas.

Constantly compared to her faultless sister and wilting under the pressure of a looming marriage, Zainab Essaji belongs to an aristocratic Muslim Bohri family, who gets muddled into a tangle of British spies, Swaraj movement, and forbidden love.

Each chapter is named after a vibrant color which gives us an inkling about the emotional hue the story takes. Lyrics from popular songs and quotes from well-known works of literature are woven masterfully between the words.

Zen and her family stumble across some family secrets and we also have a ‘voice’ from the beyond chiming in to have her final say.

Go ahead, pick up this book and be prepared to dive into a heady mix of love, deception, and intrigue!

Zen by Shabnam Minwalla may be a mammoth 600-page read but it is a rollercoaster of a read!
It’s got all the elements of a Bollywood-esque super hit: romance, mystery, murder, and a dash of social justice. It may be written for the YA (Young Adult) demographic but given the current state of affairs in our otherwise secular and tolerant country, it serves as a clarion call to uphold tolerance and empathy.

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Disclaimer: Sowmya is a part of the #kbcReviewerSquad and received this book as a review copy via kbc.

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