Brixton-based sisters produce a literary tour de force

two women
Sisters Ambreen and Uzma Hameed

Brixton-based sisters Uzma and Ambreen Hameed have received rave reviews for their two-novel series, Undying.

It has been dubbed “The Bronte Sisters meet Four Lions” by award-winning chorographer and director Wayne McGregor. 

The sisters, who grew up in Brixton and other parts of South London, first had the idea for the novel back in 1998, after the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, in connection with his relations with Monica Lewinsky.

The vote on impeachment was delayed at the time due to the bombing of Iraq.

“The superstition is that jinns inhabit triangles,” explained Uzma, who now lives in West Norwood, “So, might jinns not live in love triangles?” 

“That’s sort of when we first had the germ of the idea for the book,” added Ambreen, who lives in Brixton.

covers of two books

Undying follows sisters Sufya and Zarina and their love triangle with the playfully named Heathrow – who was found on the concourse of Terminal 3 as an orphan – when he goes as an adult in Palestine.

The sisters explained in an interview with The Blog, that the character not only pays homage to the Emily Bronte’s anti-hero, Heathcliff, from Wuthering Heights (perhaps now more famous from the Kate Bush song), but also references the significant role the West London airport has played in the British-Asian experience, a theme central to the novels. 

The sisters took it in turns to write the chapters, and slowly the plot, set in the 1980s, emerged, and a range of characters, including members of a pop group and a Bollywood star, developed. Heathrow himself is a documentary filmmaker.

two children
Ambreen and Uzma as children

“We knew already that the sisters would have different perspectives, that they would never have the same point of view, so we took it in turns to write chapters,” explained Ambreen, “but we were expecting coherence at certain points that just wasn’t there, because we had two different minds.

“There’s a million mistakes that can be made. You have to learn better how to talk to each other.”

The novels bring attention not only to the problems that arise when you have gaps in communications in families, but also on the global stage, and refers to the events of 11 September 11, 2001, in both the prologue and the epilogue.

“9/11 is just such a big event in modern history that it’s hard to remember what it was like before that,” said Ambreen.

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Ambreen and Uzma in the 90s

“We’ve started exploring some of the currents that were already in play; the alienation, the stereotypes, the difficulties in navigating identity … what we ended up talking about was anger. Anger that’s not processed gets passed on

“What led up to the anger of 9/11 – the alienation of young men, in particular, who didn’t know where to place themselves.

“But what we kept coming back to, was that line from Casablanca about ‘the problems of three little people’.

“The sisters have a journey towards each other,” added Uzma, “they are perhaps closer than they thought they were.”

Alongside Wayne McGregor’s review, the novel has been described as “huge fun” by Boyd Tonkin, journalist and a former chair of judges for ther Man Booker international prize, and “wildly entertaining” by novelist Stef Penney, winner of the Costa Book of the Year in 2006.

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