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Hina Belitz – To Lahore, With Love – review and Q&A

Addy Mayford has always struggled with her identity, as a mixed race woman living in London, brought up by her Irish mother and Pakistani Nana, without her father who died early on. Faith and food fuelled her upbringing, and despute her mother’s concerns, she’s found contentment cooking delicious recipes from his home city of Lahore. With the love of her husband Gabe, she finds contentment. When Addy stumbles across a secret that shatters her world, she desperately needs to escape and is drawn to the sights of Lahore and the family she’s never known. Waiting for her there is Addy’s final acceptance of who she is, and a long-buried family secret that will change her life for ever.

I raced through Hina Belitz’s To Lahore, With Love. But I didn’t love it. The book feels confused. Is it literary fiction, chick lit, or a recipe book? Not that a novel needs to fit neatly into a genre, but it does need to be consistent. All the tropes of a compelling piece of commercial fiction are there. There’s a complicated upbringing, an earth shattering secret, and broken promises. But you’re never really drawn in enough.

The relationship between Addy and her Nan is sweet, and the way that she writes rapturously about food glorious. Belitz’s first book Sofia Kahn is not Obliged was far more compelling. I’m sure it will do brilliantly in the summer reads rounds up. It just didn’t rock my world.

I had a chat with Hina to learn more about her writing and the book.

Is To Lahore With Love based on your own story and upbringing?

Yes! To Lahore With Love is based on the story of my life and upbringing, although it is a fictional version, so a number of things are different. It follows of the story of how protagonist, Addy Mayford, a mixed-race girl struggles with being different and not fitting in, and how she finds happiness, only to have it all stripped away in one earth shattering moment. It also explores how the trials in her life open her up to other ways of seeing the world. Addy Mayford challenges her beliefs about how we go about meeting our soulmate. Is there a right and a wrong way? I’ve been watching the current Netflix series Love Is Blind, presently Number 2 on Netflix, and there are a number of parallels between To Lahore With Love and that show.

The thread of the story that follows my own life was featured in Guardian Family and my interview by Morgan Freeman in The Story Of Us With Morgan Freeman (by National Geographic).

Stories, food, and faith – why are these so central to your book and to Addy?

What a great question! These themes are so central to the book because they represent the gifts I have received from the strong women who have been a part of my life, particularly my mother and grandmother. I see food as a bridge to other cultures and my mother was an epic cook who expressed her love for us through her cookery. I recall how in my childhood, I genuinely felt healed after one of mum’s meals. To Lahore With Love explores this idea further with the protagonist Addy Mayford believing that her food can actually change a person’s mind. I tragically lost my mother a few years ago and so including the recipes was a great way to immortalise a small part of her forever.

My grandmother was a great storyteller reminiscent of the ancient storytelling of Scherhezade in the Arabian nights. The story Nana tells Addy in To Lahore With Love is a real one my grandmother actually told me. Yes, she believed she had a Djinn lover! I made a connection between the idea of compelling stories that save lives and life changing meals. So, Addy Mayford is a sort of Scherhezade of the cookery world!

Faith, (by which I mean trusting that there is meaning to everything), has always been a central part of my life and for this reason I wanted it to become a part of Addy’s journey through the novel. I have always been amazed at how healing a small shift in mindset can be. And that requires faith. An example is the expression, ‘what hits you was never going to miss you, what misses you was never going to hit you.’ Believing these words is an act of faith which can give enormous relief from stress and anxiety. Sometimes a small phrase can blow you away. The Nietzsche quote at the opening of the novel is an example. It highlights how much suffering arises because we not open to the idea that what happens to us may be the best thing for us, even if it doesn’t seem that way. I think that the Nietzsche’s quote embodies the idea of faith beautifully.

Do you think we see enough characters from diverse backgrounds in English literature?

I do not believe we see enough characters from diverse backgrounds in English literature and for this reason I am passionate about writing such characters and hopefully as a result helping to normalise Asian stories. It is important to me that Addy Mayford is a cross-cultural and multi-religious. I want her to be relatable to different sectors and communities in the world. I am really interested in the similarities and differences in the outlook people from different cultures have, from the colour foundation they choose to how they deal with adversity.

It’s not enough, though, to just have more characters from diverse backgrounds. We also need to ensure they form part of varied and nuanced storytelling. One of the most damaging things is repeating a single story about a certain group of people because that is exactly how prejudice and bias can form.

What can people take away from your book? What do you hope it helps them consider?

The first thing I hope, the key take away I would like is for people to enjoy To Lahore With Love and connect with Addy Mayford like a friend they wish to keep visiting. If entering into Addy’s world introduces them to notions about people from other cultures and religions that they didn’t have before, that would be wonderful. Ultimately, I hope it helps people consider the great benefits of expanding your mind to understand and embrace any sort of ‘otherness.’

What’s your writing process or routine? Do you plan, pants, follow the character or something else?

My process is very organic. Before starting, I read around the subjects I am writing about and research a fair bit. I do make story plans in gorgeous Italian notebooks I buy from TK Maxx, but I mostly find I abandon them as the novel writing itself begins. I need silence to work and not only zero interuption, but no possibility of interruption, so I often go to the loft in our home or a library, like the Cambridge University Library. I get my best ideas in the shower, which is highly inconvenient, or sometimes in the dead of night when I should be asleep. In the end, it is hard hard work that leads to small openings and ideas which gradually accumulate. I am a real believer in the notion that the brain continues to work when you think you have signed off. And like Addy, I yearn for those moment of Lecto divino, those glimmers of transcendence when in the throes of creation, because when they do come, they are worth every moment of the hard graft involved in creating something original.

1 Comment

  • Anne Cater
    Posted March 16, 2020 at 8:51 am

    Thanks for supporting the blog tour Francesca xx

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