Best of Friends

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Pub Date 27 Sep 2022 | Archive Date 27 Sep 2022

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'A profound novel about friendship. I loved it to pieces' MADELINE MILLER
'A shining tour de force' ALI SMITH


A dazzling new novel of friendship, identity and the unknowability of other people - from the international bestselling author of Home Fire, winner of the Women's Prize for Fiction

Fourteen-year-old Maryam and Zahra have always been the best of friends, despite their different backgrounds. Maryam takes for granted that she will stay in Karachi and inherit the family business; while Zahra keeps her desires secret, and dreams of escaping abroad.

This year, 1988, anything seems possible for the girls; and for Pakistan, emerging from the darkness of dictatorship into a bright future under another young woman, Benazir Bhutto. But a snap decision at a party celebrating the return of democracy brings the girls' childhoods abruptly to an end. Its consequences will shape their futures in ways they cannot imagine.

Three decades later, in London, Zahra and Maryam are still best friends despite living very different lives. But when unwelcome ghosts from their shared past re-enter their world, both women find themselves driven to act in ways that will stretch and twist their bond beyond all recognition.

Best of Friends is a novel about Britain today, about power and how we use it, and about what we owe to those who've loved us the longest.

'A profound novel about friendship. I loved it to pieces' MADELINE MILLER
'A shining tour de force' ALI SMITH



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ISBN 9781526647702
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Featured Reviews

I adored this novel from Kamila Shamsie - as ever, she writes about important issues in an utterly accessible and engaging way.

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The beginning of Best of Friends evokes the Pakistan of the late 1980s. Karachi is the setting as years of dictatorship end and the country embraces the prospect of democracy.

Shamsie captures Pakistan perfectly: a country of cricket lovers where men and women are striving for equality in their personal lives as well as their society. The novel communicates the energy of the people and the texture of their lives in this period. And there is the love affair these people have with England. Somehow the intersection between the two countries is best expressed in cricket. There is a lovely set piece late in the novel as cricket at Lords becomes a microcosm of English society.

However, although Best of Friends makes use of a very precise historical period, it tells a very personal story. Maryam and Zahra are both from rich and privileged families with properties in London, but their ambitions are different. Yet, as adolescents, their lives pivot on a late night decision at the end of a party.

The novel shows how this event of their childhood changes everything. Maryam is sent to boarding school in London and this marks a point of separation from her parents after a childhood in which she always planned to run the family business.

The novel moves forward 30 years to London in 2019, where Zahra is now a powerful woman who has lived an extraordinary adult life already. Her choices challenge the thinking of her culture and she is very much a political figure. She loves London and is battling for civil liberties for the UK, despite her Pakistani heritage.

Maryam too is very successful: a venture capitalist, based in the UK, specialising in the tech industry. Like Zahra she has made unconventional choices. They have remained friends, despite very different political standpoints.

As Zahra and Maryam take it in turns to tell the story, the reader’s sympathies are tested. Are they entirely reliable narrators? Can they trust each other? And do they have the same understanding of that trigger event that altered the course of their lives? Perhaps the title should include a question mark.

This novel teaches us about what happens to personal loyalties in a society dominated by power and politics. And it builds to a memorable ending.

Best of Friends deals with race and sexuality in an original way, but it is never overpowered by polemic.
Its epic scope never subsumes the personal friendship that sustains the plot. It remains a personal story, driven by human emotions with which we can all empathise. The novel shows how a single event can change a life. Best of Friends is a masterpiece.

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There are so many layers to Best of Friends by Kamila Shamsie, on it's surface it is about a lifelong friendship between two girls, but in reality it covers so many more topics. This cleverly plotted tale had my gripped from beginning to end and I couldn't have stopped reading it even if I wanted to.

The book is set in 1988 during a period of great change for Pakistan, a time period which will have a significant impact on the lives of Zahra and Maryam. Maryam comes from a privileged background and is secure in her knowledge of who she is and where she belongs, some might call her entitled. Zahra is more aware that her position in the world is more precarious, as is her sense of who she is. To outsiders the friendship seems an unlikely one but the girls pride themselves on knowing everything about each other.

"Zahra had recently looked up from a dictionary to inform Maryam that what the two of them had with each other was friendship, and what they had with the other six girls and twenty-two boys in class was merely 'propinquity' - a relationship based on physical proximity."

Three decades later the women find themselves living in London and living two very different lives at differing ends of the political spectrum. When two ghosts from their past show up it calls everything into question including their friendship.

I loved how the author captured the fierceness that exists in teenage friendships, the sense that you will always be in each other's lives no matter what.

"If you moved to Alaska tomorrow, we'd still be best friends, for the rest of our lives."

I loved the way the friendship between the two characters unravelled at times but then they came back to each other and their shared history. I think for much of the book Maryam is portrayed as the darker of the two characters but Zahra isn't all sweetness and light.

There are many different themes tackled in this book, not least misogyny, government corruption and a sense of being the other in society. Shamsie tackles each of these subjects in a way that is refreshing and unique.

At the heart of the book though is always this friendship.

"Childhood friendship really was the most mysterious of all relationships."

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I love how Kamila Shamsie writes about relationships, particularly between women. Home Fire about the bond between sisters, in this one the bond between best friends. Girls who have grown up together in Karachi, and have now become women who live in London. Very different personalities and lives, but both high profile and both with trauma from the past. This book addresses the way that you can know someone all your life, but still there are the things that can't be talked about, that they carry around unspoken but which have informed their relationship.

Zahra and Maryam are wonderful characters, both so bold and powerful in their own ways, both living a life that is fulfilling and rich, but also still carrying the baggage of an experience that happened to them when they were teenagers. Something that changed their perspective on the world. I loved the way that their different perspectives on this were written. This author can pinpoint particular moments and write about the emotions that her characters feel so well, but she also writes great supporting characters who are full of life and who feel incredibly real.

This really is wonderful. I enjoyed every scene, even though you'll feel uncomfortable at times, sad at others and slightly in love with these well drawn women at other times, this is a book the charm you and inform you about politics and culture.

Read it for fabulous writing, an interesting storyline and the warmth of these relationships. It'll make you think about your own best friends and how much you value them.

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