I Never Said That I Was Brave
“This is what Miriam does to me. Always. She demands my attention. But I don’t understand. There is so much I don’t understand. I am speaking now of things beyond gravitational forces and cosmology. And here we have arrived at my motivation for telling you about Miriam and about everything that happened, from the beginning. You see, if I try to make you understand, perhaps I will understand—not only Miriam’s choices, but also mine.”
It has been two years since her lifelong friend, the charismatic astrophysicist Miriam, has killed her young daughter and herself. The narrator—who remains unnamed throughout the novel—is ready to tell Miriam’s story and, thereby, unwittingly reveals her own.
I Never Said That I Was Brave is about two friends, both childhood immigrants to Canada: clever, intellectually ambitious girls who are able to outwardly assimilate. But in adulthood, fissures—formed by the expectations of their South Asian communities and their family histories—appear and grow deeper and wider as the women navigate a culture vastly different from their parents’.
Recounting the shifting dynamics of her friendship with Miriam, the narrator describes herself, variously, as a “shadow” to Miriam, as “empty space” to Miriam’s sun, as the one in the audience watching Miriam on the stage. But is she the passive observer she purports to be?
Concepts of quantum physics, particularly dark matter and the role of consciousness, serve as underlying metaphors in the book, signaling that the landscape of this novel is unstable, and that the narrator’s version of events should not always be trusted. As she follows her memories on their unpredictable and unreliable paths, we are taken along on a devastating journey, one which blurs distinctions between right and wrong, victim and manipulator, life and death.
Coming Fall 2024 from House of Anansi
Where the Air Is Sweet
"Engrossing, shocking, beautiful."
- The Globe and Mail
"Beautifully written and deeply emotional." - National Post
"A perfect summer read."
- Toronto Star
A powerful, vivid story of a family’s search for home and belonging, set against a brutal dictatorship and the promise of refuge in Canada.
Raju is drawn to Uganda by the desire for a better life. Over two generations, Raju and his family carve a niche for themselves and form a deep connection to the land in the midst of a racially stratified colonial and post-colonial society.
Their world is thrown into upheaval when brutal dictator Idi Amin comes to power. The family struggles to carry on until, in 1972, Amin expels 80,000 South Asians from the country. Raju, his children and their children have ninety days to flee as Uganda descends into unimaginable chaos and murder. Forced out, toward the shores of England and Canada, the family must find a place to land and a way to start again, even while the ties of Africa draw them back.
Where the Air Is Sweet is a vivid, engrossing portrait of a family caught up in the larger forces of world affairs. Despite tragedy and displacement, their story is one of hope and resilience, and finally, homecoming.
From HarperCollins Canada
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TASNEEM JAMAL was born in Mbarara, Uganda, and immigrated to Canada with her family in 1975. Her debut novel Where the Air Is Sweet was published to critical acclaim in 2014. That same year she was named one of 12 rising CanLit stars on CBC's annual list of Writers to Watch. Her writing has appeared in Chatelaine, Saturday Night magazine, and the Literary Review of Canada. She worked as a news editor at The Globe and Mail for six years. Currently, she is an editor at The New Quarterly literary magazine and the Communications Officer for Project Ploughshares, a Waterloo-based peace research institute. Her second novel, I Never Said That I Was Brave, will be published by House of Anansi in Fall 2024.
essays and interviews
This is a wide-ranging interview about my experience and process writing Where the Air Is Sweet, and being a writer living and working in the Grand River Watershed. (Episode Six: April 2021)
In this essay I describe the experience of re-reading the Canlit classic for the the 50th anniversary issue (#103, Fall 2018) of Canadian Notes & Queries
This is a three-way written conversation (borne out of a panel discussion) I had with the writers Ayelet Tsabari and Jael Richardson in issue #145 (Winter 2018) of The New Quarterly
This personal essay was published in Chatelaine.
I spoke with Piya Chattopadhyay about unintended consequences on CBC Radio's Out in the Open
An interview, along with the novelists Lawrence Hill and Kim Thuy, on CBC Radio's The Current.
This personal essay in Chatelaine describes what happened when my husband and I followed our dreams
This essay about the Syrian refugee crisis was published on Huffpost.
This is a television interview on TVO's The Agenda about the events described in Where the Air Is Sweet
This personal essay, published in The Globe and Mail, describes my arrival in Canada through an image of my grandfather