Once a Stranger, debut fiction by Zoya Patel
28 March 2023
Ayat as not seen, nor spoken to, her mother, Khadija, and sister, Laila, who live in Canberra, for six years. Ayat hurriedly moved away to Melbourne after her mother and sister learned she was dating Harry, a Catholic. Ayat made clear her boyfriend would not convert to Islam, the religion of her Indian family, in the event they decided to marry.
Ayat also took exception to Laila agreeing to marry a man of the family’s choosing, in accordance with tradition. Arranged marriages may have been appropriate in another time and place, but Ayat sees no place for the institution in today’s world. After six years though in the Victorian capital, she has made a new life for herself with Harry.
But Khadija is unwell. She has only a short time to live. Laila contacts Ayat, and asks her to come home and see her ailing mother, while there is still time. But on arriving in Canberra, Ayat is asked to travel far further afield. Khadija would like to make a final trip to India, with her daughters, before she dies.
But the prospect of visiting India is daunting for Ayat. For one thing, it will bring her face to face with her extended family, and their expectations. But Khadija hopes the trip will help Ayat understand her values, and desire to uphold tradition, in Once a Stranger, published by Hachette Australia, March 2023, the debut novel of Canberra based journalist and author, Zoya Patel.
Based in part on Patel’s own experiences, which she also explores in her 2018 memoir, No Country Woman, Once A Stranger treads a path that will be familiar to many first generation Australians.
People who sometimes feel they are neither here nor there, as they walk a line between the traditions their families adhere to, and embrace the culture of another country. And where acceptance and alienation comes from compatriots and locals alike, in attempting to navigate the difficult middle ground.