Novelist Mayank Bhatt, who immigrated to Canada from Mumbai in 2008, delivers a taut, timely debut focused on one immigrant family and the devastating experience that threatens to destroy the life they have struggled to build in their new country.
Having left their home in the 1990s to escape recurrent violence between Hindus and Muslims, Abdul and Ruksana Latif and their two adult children, Ziram and Rafiq, find themselves “misfits in Canada as much as they had been, as Muslims, in India.” Nevertheless, by the fall of 2008, the Latifs are relatively settled, with a home they own and jobs that promise more than mere survival. The family’s comfortable existence is thrown into turmoil when it is revealed that Rafiq may be involved in a terrorist plot to blow up a number of locations in and around Toronto. Rafiq’s questionable treatment at the hands of the justice system, and the family’s fear regarding the potential repercussions from his alleged crime, illustrate their terribly vulnerable position in Canadian society.
In part, Belief may be read as a cautionary tale urging those with extremist leanings to “steer a calmer, more sober path.” But even more importantly, it reads as a message to mainstream Canada that the isolation and marginalization of the immigrant experience have the potential to result in unintended consequences when faced with individuals who “[don’t] know what one could do about an unjust system except fight it.”
At the novel’s end, the future for the Latifs is undetermined. It is clear that their lives have been irrevocably altered, though not entirely for the worse. Through the experience of arrest and interrogation, Rafiq is forced to re-evaluate his religious faith, as well as his understanding of his parents; in so doing, he gains a clearer perspective on the older generation’s struggles.
Bhatt’s illuminating, plain-spoken novel could be instrumental in generating substantive discussion about the immigrant experience in a country that is still a long way from understanding what that really entails.