In the Company of Strangers

Fiction - Drama
274 Pages
Reviewed on 08/28/2019
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Darryl Greer for Readers' Favorite

Terrorist bombings are rife in Pakistan and Lahore, that country’s second-most populous city and one of its wealthiest, has its fair share. Another interesting fact is that 90% of Pakistani women suffer from domestic violence and Pakistan is the third most dangerous country in the world for women. Into this background comes author Awais Khan’s debut novel, In The Company Of Strangers, the extraordinary story of Ali and Mona, two of the unlikeliest characters you would expect to cross paths in that teeming city. Ali is a young man, still in his twenties, who once was a successful model. But with his success came all the trappings you would expect in that profession: sex, drugs and alcohol. As he enters the story, he has given all that up but in doing so, he is forced to live in poverty. Across town we find Mona, wife of Bilal, a construction millionaire. She is in her early forties. She has all the trappings of wealth and power: a luxury home with servants, designer clothes, expensive jewellery and flashy cars. But it comes at a cost – she suffers physical and mental abuse from her violent husband. Their marriage, at least from Mona’s point of view, is loveless. When a terrorist’s bomb severely injures Ali’s brother, Hussain, he is forced back into modelling to raise money for his treatment. It is there that his path crosses with Mona’s. And as it does, their lives will never be the same.

If you like thrillers, you’ll love this book; if you like romance novels, you’ll love this book; if you like literature, you’ll love this book. In fact, if you read anything at all, including the newspaper, you’ll love Awais Khan’s In The Company Of Strangers. From the explosive prologue to the poignant dénouement, it is a page-turner and, at the same time, a fascinating and unique glimpse into the complexities of Pakistani society. The prose is flawless, visual, and characterization so effective that you know every facet of the main characters’ psyches and you cannot help wishing that everything will turn out okay for them. I highly recommend this book. It would be a crime if it didn’t become a bestseller.

Kristy Vee

Mona, a bored, forty-something Pakistani housewife has had it with the way things are and she’s just about to burst. Bombs are going off around her every day now and things are becoming more dangerous than they’ve ever been. Mona’s not quite sure how her loveless life became so monotonous, so unbearably stifling, so lonely for love and connection. What she does know is that she’s fed up with being married to a condescending, emotionally vacant, beast of a husband, who sees right through her unless he’s spying or prying. The kids are away at college and cruel Bilal has left her feeling unloved and unappreciated. In fact, she can’t remember the last time romance or excitement has quickened her heartbeat. That is, until Meera, her best friend for over twenty years and the owner of a prestigious modeling agency, comes around and introduces her to more than just amazing memories of old times. When she meets Ali, everything she thought she knew about herself and the meaning of love and family changes forever.

In The Company Of Strangers by Awais Khan is an intriguing, captivating tale of love, loss, and redemption. I absolutely loved reading this book by Awais Khan for many reasons. The author is incredibly descriptive about authentic Pakistani culture, from the food, art, customs, fashion, nightlife, relationships…even the unfortunate fears and terror the people are faced with. Well-written and finely paced, Khan was so detailed I felt like I was right there in the action. I enjoyed this story very much and highly recommend this exotic read to those who crave more than just the average, humdrum romantic drama. Five stars!

Grant Leishman

In the Company of Strangers is the debut novel from Awais Khan. It takes us inside the elite classes of Pakistani society and exposes the hypocrisy and double-standards of Pakistani life, especially from the perspective of the women of that country. Mona, a forty-one-year-old socialite in Lahore has been married to construction magnate Bilal for over twenty years. Although he loves her dearly, Bilal is a typically conservative, male Muslim Pakistani who firmly believes a woman’s place is in the home; demure, quiet and always ready to service her man whenever he requires it. If necessary, Bilal will reinforce his dominance with physical violence, although, of course, there is no problem with Bilal having a string of girlfriends and affairs. Mona has everything materially she could ever wish for but she lacks the one thing she needs more than anything - love. With her children grown and studying in Canada, Mona struggles with the meaningless circuit of gossiping, backstabbing society women. She meets Ali, an aspiring young male model, whose desire to help his mother and especially his brother, who lost his leg in a terrorist bombing, now has him floating on the edges of the terrorist’s threat. Their mutual attraction is undeniable. When her best friend during her student days, Meera, the successful owner of a modeling agency, returns to town, Mona finally feels emboldened enough to try to break free from her gilded prison.

In the Company of Strangers is an incredibly powerful story of love and loss in a country trying to come to terms with the juxtaposition of twenty-first-century morality and conservative Muslim culture and law. Mona, as a character, was a bold effort from author Awais Khan. He manages to successfully capture the many sides of this complicated character and the difficult, near impossible position she finds herself in. The author’s ability to show the raw emotion of the characters and the horror of the terrorist’s actions is admirable and a credit to his writing abilities. For those of us who live outside Pakistan, he was able to provide a clear insight into the workings of a predominantly Muslim country and their social contracts, such as marriage. As a social commentary on modern-day Pakistan, this had me enthralled and as a story of love, loss, and hope, I was captivated. Khan clearly has real ability and by concentrating on something he clearly knew, understood and had probably lived, he was able to bring urgency and believability to his work. Full of emotion and action, this is a thoroughly readable story that I can highly recommend. I look forward to more work from this highly talented author.