Stories every migrant can resonate with, ‘In Spite of Oceans’- Book Review

by Tayyaba Riaz


We’re all very similar, if only we look inwards


Migration is, and always will be a case of sacrifices and compromises. A promise of a new beginning. A journey into a new land, worlds apart from what one is used to; almost opposite, where bad omens from home could be a sign of wisdom in the new place, like owls.

Qureshi writes about this masochistic struggle for British Asians, who left behind their family, warmth and culture, pursuing star crossed secret romances or mismatched arranged marriages in search of a better life in the UK.

Qureshi transports the reader back to the 70’s, with a boom in immigration. In a South Asian version of Scarface, she strikes a fine balance between the negative and positive impacts of migration, as it continues to hold this generation back for fear they will lose their identity and what has been familiar to them. Like not being able to pass their exquisitely detailed recipes down to their daughters, who have resorted to pasta, or that their saris with intricate embroideries will be replaced by white wedding gowns, as the new generation weds in to the West.

In Spite of Oceans illustrates the struggle a generation experienced by leaving home behind, but constantly carrying it with them in the depths of their hearts. At the same time, Qureshi discusses how this struggle impacted the generation that followed, who did not just suffer a generation gap, as every child may with a parent; they also suffered a cultural clash, where both generations were baffled about each other’s ideologies; what seemed sensible to one, was interpreted as rebellion by the other and vice versa.

Qureshi portrays culture and the constant struggle to prevent it from dissolving into the Western whirlpool, in little everyday issues like Anglicised Eastern names, to ease pronunciation, yet how they sadly lose their unique touch in the process.

Qureshi particularly highlights how the younger generation was merely expected to follow certain social protocol under the labels of ‘culture’ and ‘religion’. At the same time, In Spite of Oceans, beautifully portrays the protagonist side of the culture which enriches its people and brings them together in an unknown land, with connections as simple as the yellow turmeric or the smell of pungent cloves. From silk saris to the common tongue of the subcontinent.

For some, the move proved to be an advantageous one, where they left behind foul memories, or found help in the new land regarding stigmatised issues- for example, bisexuality and psychiatric disorders. Help they would not have had access to in their homeland.

For others, they found solace and peace in new built families, but left a piece of their soul behind. Qureshi ensembles  a set of characters that battle with various issues during their life long journeys.  Collecting productively tragic tales as the characters resolve their internal and external conflicts, finding common ground and serenity in their new homes.

About the Author

Huma Qureshi, 31, is a freelance journalist whose work appears frequently in the Guardian, and has been published in several national titles including The Times, The Independent and top women’s glossy, Psychologies. She was a staff features writer for the Guardian for five years before going freelance, and has worked for two years as a weekly contributor on the BBC Asian Network. Huma writes widely, on culture, society and lifestyle issues, including first person features and in-depth interviews. She has won several awards for her writing, including Highly Commended in the Women of the Future Media Awards and a finalist in the Prince of Wales Mosaic Talent Awards in the media category.

In Spite Of Oceans: Migrant Voices £14.99 from Amazon

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