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Saturday, August 27, 2016

All Inclusive - Farzana Doctor

Warning: This post has spoilers. If you haven’t read All Inclusive and intend to read it, postpone reading this post until after you’ve read the novel. Also, this is not a review of the novel.

Beside frightening readers, ghosts have often made fiction more humane. If we ignore the ghosts who scare and focus on the friendly or at least the non-scary ones, the ghost in Hamlet is perhaps the best known fictional character of all times. There are countless other characters that are sometimes more alive than the living characters in a book.

Azeez Dholkawala, in Farzana Doctor’s All Inclusive, is a friendly spirit, who is in search of his release that will only occur after he has fulfilled his duty. Azeez is unable to give up his spectral form because he has to help someone find her purpose in life. The dead helping the living find their mission to live - the idea is counterintuitive but the author handles it with consummate skills.

Azeez is killed in the terrorist bombing of the 1983 Air India Kanishka, and his body rests at the bottom of the Atlantic. Unbeknownst to him, he had fathered a lovechild just a day before his boarding the ill-fated aircraft.  His daughter Ameera grows up to be an independent woman.

The reader meets her when she has fallen out of a long relationship and is seeking a prolonged but temporary diversion. This diversion is a job as a tourist-trapper for an all-inclusive holiday resort in Mexico; a job at which she is effortlessly successful. Unconventional and free spirited, Ameera is addicted to non-traditional sexual experiences and frequently indulges in threesomes with tourists at the resort, which eventually gets her into trouble.

All Inclusive is Farzana Doctor’s third novel (after Stealing Nasreen (2008) and Six Meters of Pavement (2011)) is an easy read, and an unexpected page-turner; unexpected because the story and the characters are laid back and are in no hurry to do anything except just be who they are. 

Ameera is good at what she does but suffers from ennui that leads her to unusual sexcapades, which are rather gleefully described in explicit details. Azeez, of course, is on a mission to find his release and he doesn’t know what it is that will either release him or reincarnate him; the ghostly guides nudge him but don’t really help him in his quest.  

In Six Meters of Pavement, Farzana’s second novel, the lead protagonist Ismail Boxwala loses his infant daughter Zubi. She then permeates the novel despite her absence. In All Inclusive, Azeez is a constant presence throughout the novel. His steady and measured moves to find his purpose in death keep the reader riveted.

Farzana possesses a rare felicity of being able to under the skin of a character and make it come alive, even when the character is a ghost. Just as Ismail Boxwala in Six Meters, Azeez Dholkawala is utterly believable, if not always likeable. Ameera, on the other hand, is often a character from a deeper Shade of Grey.

All Inclusive is published by Dundurn, Toronto. You may buy the book here: All Inclusive

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