Things We Do Not Tell The People We Love by Huma Qureshi | Book Review

Things We Do Not Tell The People We Love by Huma Qureshi is a collection of ten profoundly moving short stories, written in lyrical and luscious prose underpinned by a variety of subtle emotions. Each story explores themes of loneliness, relationships, connections, misunderstandings, silences, unspoken emotions and feelings, internal turmoil, cultural and social norms within the immigrant families. Things We Do Not Tell The People We Love is a lovely collection of stories with a rich variety of nuanced characters desperately trying to locate their place in the world.

‘Firecracker’ has become one of my favourite stories in this collection. It is a story about friendship, or rather how friendship can go ‘from being all so-consuming to merely a memory’ of our younger years. The process of growing apart is beautifully depicted, veiled in a subtle nuance. The narrator here references a film about young woman in north London who died in her flat and wasn’t found for three years. I am wondering if this film was Dream of Life about Joyce Vincent? I watched that film back in 2011 or 2012. I was walking down Shaftesbury Avenue in Soho and saw this enigmatic poster for this film and decided to watch it at Curzon Cinema in Soho. The story of Joyce touched me deeply and I found the themes tackled in ‘Firecracker’ equally touching. This story explores the meaning of human connections, what makes us drift apart and away from people with whom we once had a deep and close relationship? Is it them or us who have changed? Or is it the coincidence of various random or not-so random events in our lives? Why do we connect to certain people at certain point of our lives and then we disconnect? This is a story of loneliness, fleetingness of time, temporariness and emptiness between two souls who once had the space between them filled with conversations, warmth, laughter and mutual understanding until their connection has gradually faded with nothing but heavy silence between them.

In ‘Premonition’ social and cultural norms are explored at length with the topic of the marriageability being frequently at the centre of every conversation, as well as segregation by gender during gatherings, with the youngest discussing their first loves, friendships, their interest in literature among other things, as well as the position of women within the immigrant Asian communities in London. We witness regular Saturday dinners for sixty or seventy people with men discussing politics and the state of the NHS while women spend some of their time on discussing ‘the lives they had left behind to make this country [UK] their home‘, with children and young adults all dressed up for the occasion. This story portrays how differently various generations within the immigrant families see those cultural and social norms brought from their ancestral countries.

Relationship between an adult daughter and her mother underpinned by strong social norms and cultural conditioning filled with miscommunication, misunderstandings is a theme depicted in ‘Summer‘. This is a story of heavy silences, ’empty space’ between daughter and mother suffused with ‘an air crowded with millions of misunderstandings’. ‘Too Much’ is another story in this collection exploring the relationship between mother and daughter as well as miscommunication or lack of words between two seemingly close people.

‘There is a moment when you open a pot of home-made jam for the first time and the lid pops and you inhale the sweetness of soft, leathery fruit, when what you smell is not merely sugar and lemon and berries but a memory, a fragment, captured in time.’ ‘The Jam Maker‘ had a profound impact on me. It deals with death of parents and its impact on the ones left behind especially children. This is a poignant exploration of grief, loneliness, preservations of memories, emptiness, belonging and identity in the context of the immigrant family.

‘Small Differences’ delves into ‘this unspoken shore of misunderstandings, this vanity of small differences’ present so often in multicultural relationships and how our background can affect the way we communicate with our loved ones and potential new family members we might gain through marriage.

Relationship between grief, loss and religion is the main theme explored in ‘Superstition’. The story examines how cultural and social norms impact our communication with loved ones, especially when it comes to sharing the news of loss. ‘Foreign Parts’ is a story which felt very relatable to me. It tackles code switching among immigrants who spend a significant amount of time abroad. This vignette depicts how we veil ourselves in a different personality when we switch between languages, locations or cultures, how we, as immigrants, take on a new voice, even a new personality and how it feels to be ‘left on the outside looking in.’ ‘Waterlogged’ and ‘The Wishes’ explore motherhood, fulfillment, the meaning of being in a relationship and its connection to feeling or not feeling of being alone.

Things We Do Not Tell The People We Love is a lovely collection of stories, rich in emotions and nuances, depicting complexity of human relationships and connections through the lenses of cultural and social conditioning.

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