The World Unseen by Shamim Sarif


A free-spirited café owner falls for a young wife and mother. Their unexpected attraction pushes them to question the cruel rules of a world that divides white from black and women from men, but a world that might just allow an unexpected love to survive.


In 1950’s South Africa, apartheid is just beginning, but nothing can stop two courageous women from falling in love.


Free-spirited Amina has broken all the rules of her own conventional Indian community in South Africa by running a cafe, a safe haven of laughter, music and home-cooked food; a “grey area” for those who fall outside the strict “black and white” rules of the apartheid-led government. Cafe regulars include Amina’s feisty waitress Doris, her gentle “Coloured” business partner Jacob and the sparky White local postmistress Madeleine. Long accustomed to the racial barriers of the country and its new laws, Madeleine and Jacob nevertheless share a budding attraction. Miriam, on the other hand, is a doting mother to her children and a demure and subservient wife to her chauvinistic, frustrated husband, Omar. Quietly intelligent, Miriam has never assumed that she may have choices in life.

When Miriam meets Amina, their unexpected attraction throws them both off balance. Although Miriam manages to subdue her fascination with unconventional Amina, she finds herself slowly inspired to confront familiar and familial constraints. Shortly after their encounter Miriam moves to an isolated life in the country, but even here apartheid is placing its cruel footprint on society, and these injustices bring the two women together again, cementing the basis of their growing feelings.

Meanwhile Jacob decides to pursue a love affair of his own and he and Madeleine begin a tentative, touching relationship. But the best intentions of both are overcome by practical challenges and indignities of simply spending time together. Even the fearless Amina, faced with the strength of her feelings and with the reality of Miriam’s situation, starts doubting herself. And Miriam finds herself making some courageous choices that will change her own life forever.

The World Unseen explores a system that divides white from black and women from men, but one that might just allow an unexpected love to survive.

“Eloquent prose, tension filled pages, and a special love that is expressed so well that it becomes the beam of light that shines through the pages of this fine book. Reading her books it is no wonder that Shamin is a successful film writer and director also.” —Grady Harp, Hall of Fame, Top 100 Reviewer, Vine Voice

“It is an impressive debut. Sarif ’s story brings together the descriptive power of the novelist with the screenwriter’s mastery of dialogue.” —The Times

“I read The World Unseen at a gulp, so entrancing is it’s style, so complete it’s tale of love and betrayal, and so accurate it’s depiction . . . of the physical, social and political scene . . .” —Johannesburg Star, Book of the Week

“Sarif ’s elegant and understated debut eschews emotional fireworks, and offers an unusual insight into early apartheid . . . a novel that lives up to its title.” —The Times, Play

“In the tradition of Vikram Seth, Sarif throws down a literary gauntlet that very few writers will be able to pick up and return with any conviction.” —Pride

“A really wonderful book. Sarif ’s writing is delicate and confident and the characters are real and very believable.” —Maggie O’Farrell, Author of After You’d Gone and My Lover’s Lover

“Highly original . . . this is a stylishly written work. Sarif is near faultless . . .” —India Weekly

“The characters shine with the beauty of Sarif ’s deceptively skillful prose which keeps your eyes skating along the narrative in sheer enjoyment. I read this book in two long sittings, unable to put it down.” —Dyverse

“If you only read one novel for the rest of the year, make it this one. Sarif is a new writer who deserves to win prizes.” —Waterstones

SHAMIM SARIF is an award-winning novelist, screenwriter, and feature film director. Her works include the novels and films, I Can’t Think Straight, The World Unseen, and Despite the Falling Snow; and the documentary, The House of Tomorrow. She is currently working on the novel and film project, The Artemis Protocol. She lives in London, England with her wife Hanan Kattan and their two sons.

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