Nadiya Hussain has been riding a well-earned wave of success: after winning the Great British Bake Off in 2015, she was invited to bake Queen Elizabeth’s birthday cake. She also got her own show on BBC and viewers tuned in to see her travel through her home country of Bangladesh, cook her favorite dishes and make revelations about life. But with the release of her first novel this year, it seems, she’s gone too far.
In a review for the Guardian, writer Jenny Colgan goes on what can only be termed a tirade. Before she even explains the premise of Hussain’s book, The Secret Lives of the Hussain Sisters, she rails against the idea of celebrities putting out books. She takes every precaution to explain that she is a fan of Hussain, saying the personality is “brimful of talent,” but she also, for some reason, says shelf space should be jealously guarded “for the children.”
“From a traditional Muslim background, [Hussain] grew up in Luton and ended up being universally loved and baking for the Queen,” Colgan wrote. “Does she really need to put her name to a novel, too, when there’s only so much shelf space to go around?…And this surefire seller, promoted at every literary festival you’ll attend this year, just feels like yet another chance snatched away from that kid whose library is closing down.”
Basically, writing a slightly average book isn't a sin for which to assume culture for brown people is a zero sum game. More the better.
It’s baffling that Colgan, before even discussing the merits of the book, is complaining about shelf space. She concedes that Secret Lives is “perfectly competent” but then says it’s probably because Hussain had a ghost writer.
It is unclear what Colgan thinks of the book itself; she says that it didn’t explain Bangladeshi culture to her, that it resembled other books that she liked, and that, for some strange reason, it won’t save literature from going out of fashion. She ends the review by calling the book “greedy” because it’ll take time away from, I suppose, books she considers more worthy.
It’s bizarre, more of a rant than a review. It contains non-sequiturs and rambling argumentation. It’s ironic that the Guardian would use up their precious page space for this piece.
Fascinating how white people suddenly become thorough arbiters of merit and quality when faced with works by people of colour
Content by and about people of color always receives an unfair level of critique from white people — they seem to think we are not allowed, or not worthy of, mundane work. Only breakthrough hits that balance every single desire they have for story, characterization, and culture are acceptable. But more TV shows, books, films, and music, even if they are terrible, helps broaden the collective understanding of our communities. We should be allowed to take up shelf space and physical space for that matter, to be “perfectly competent” or whatever. The more the better.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article called The Secret Lives of the Amir Sisters a memoir. The book is a novel.