They meet at university in London: Anil Mayur is the non-religious son of a wealthy Sikh family from Kenya; his ambition is to be an architect, rather than to take over his father’s business empire. Lina Merali is the daughter of a devout Muslim family from Birmingham, and interested in humanitarian issues. Whatever their differences, these two fall in love; they try their best to keep it a secret, but that can’t last – and life gets only more difficult as the years go by.
What makes Priya Basil’s second novel so interesting is the complexity of the scenario it presents. One can imagine this kind of story being treated rather simplistically (as, for example, a tale of the heroic lovers striving to overcome all the obstacles life places in their way), but Basil doesn’t do that – all her characters face difficult questions, and there are no easy answers. Both sets of parents would disapprove of Anil’s and Lina’s relationship, but the two protagonists have difficulties of their own to work through as well – Lina remains torn between Anil on the one hand, and her family and faith on the other; whilst Anil can sometimes be as controlling as he accuses Lina’s parents of being.
The familial situations are also presented in a nuanced fashion. In the case of Lina’s parents, for example, her mother, Iman, takes the sterner view of her daughter’s relationship, but not without reason; Iman found true love and happiness through time and staying true to her values, values to which she wants Lina to live up. Shareef, Lina’s father, is in a more complicated position, because he was in a relationship (which he ended) with a non-Muslim woman before he met Iman, so he recognises the situation in which Lina finds herself, and is more inclined to tread carefully. There’s nicely rounded characterisation like this all the way through The Obscure Logic of the Heart.
Adding a further layer to the novel is the way that events in its wider world interact with and reflect the personal stories of the protagonists. Time and again, a wish to shape the world, to change it for the better, comes up against a harsh reality. Lina can quote the statistics about political corruption, but is still unprepared for an encounter with it. She gets work with the UN, but finds colleagues unable to help everyone they would like, because they simply lack the resources. In a sincere spirit of education, a tour guide in the UN building asks her party, ‘Do you know what an anti-personnel landmine is and how much one costs?’, only for a girl to reply, ‘It can cost you your life.’ (229) The problems of the world, Basil suggests, can be as intractable as those of the heart.
In all this, I haven’t mentioned that Basil’s novel is a good read purely in terms of its plot, as she manages several times to wrong-foot the reader over what will happen (or has happened). Yet there’s so much more here besides, and it all makes The Obscure Logic of the Heart very satisfying to read.
Priya Basil’s website