STARRED REVIEW
September 27, 2022

Best of Friends

By Kamila Shamsie
Review by
Kamila Shamsie's eighth novel speculates about whether even the most cherished friendships could have an expiration date.
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Pakistani British writer Kamila Shamsie is an adept chronicler of how politics impact families in both England and Pakistan. In 2013, she was recognized as one of Granta‘s “20 best young British writers,” and her most recent novel, Home Fire, won the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction. Her eighth book, Best of Friends, delves into how relationships formed in childhood affect our adult selves, and speculates about whether even the most cherished friendships could have an expiration date.   

It’s 1988 in Karachi, Pakistan, and teenagers Zahra and Maryam have been best friends since elementary school. Zahra is the studious daughter of a schoolteacher and a cricket commentator, and she dreams of a world beyond Karachi. Maryam is the privileged child of a wealthy family that splits its time between England and Pakistan, and she hopes to inherit her family’s lucrative leather-goods business. 

Adolescence brings changing bodies and a new interest in boys. The girls’ growing sense of freedom is compounded by the election of Benazir Bhutto, whose unexpected win brings hope for a more equitable future for all Pakistanis. But when a ride home from a party with their friend Hammad goes horribly wrong, Maryam and Zahra face the limits of their freedom—as well as the ways their differing upbringings shape their reactions to trauma.

Decades later, both friends have found considerable success in London, where Zahra is a famous lawyer turned political advocate for refugees, and Maryam is a venture capitalist funding the development of facial-recognition software. They are still close, yet certain subjects remain off-limits. When Hammad comes to London, the two women argue over how to handle the situation, and their conflicting approaches put their lifelong friendship at risk.  

Shamsie excels at balancing the personal and the political, and she artfully reconstructs the tense political environment of 1980s Pakistan and the rise of the surveillance state in 2019 London to provide ample opportunities for Maryam and Zahra to find themselves on opposite sides of such issues as privacy, privilege and refugee rights. For any reader who finds themselves at odds with an old friend, Best of Friends rings true in its honest, unvarnished portrayal of friendship strained by politics and ideology.

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Best of Friends

Best of Friends

By Kamila Shamsie
Riverhead
ISBN 9780593421826

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