Picador bags Siddiqi's 'boundary-pushing' debut

Picador bags Siddiqi's 'boundary-pushing' debut

Picador has signed up The Centre by debut author Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi about a mysterious immersive language course.

Sophie Jonathan, editorial director, and Salma Begum, editorial assistant at Picador, have acquired UK and Commonwealth print, digital and audio rights from Sara Langham at David Higham Associates. It is scheduled for publication in 2023. 

The Centre follows Anisa, a Pakistani woman living in London who writes subtitles for Bollywood films. The synopsis reads: “Anisa is frustrated. On the one hand, she longs to have a 'real' career, translating books and short stories, and on the other, she is fed up of forever being the translator in the room – that person lodged between two cultures.

"Anisa finds solace in her best friend, Naima, a tantric practitioner and shamanic healer with whom she feels a strong political alignment and can freely discuss 'the underside of life', but even with Naima, there are things she can't share, such as her painful awareness that her lifestyle is maintained by her wealthy Pakistani parents. Then Anisa meets Englishman Adam... who tells her about an immersive language course where she will become completely fluent in any language she chooses in just 10 days. How it’s done is a closely guarded secret and it’s expensive, but that’s not a problem for Anisa.” 

Picador described the book as “a brilliant exploration of race, class and spiritualism that travels between London, Karachi, and New Delhi on a dark journey into how money really can buy you anything – and anyone”. 

Jonathan commented: “The Centre is a novel that engages with myriad issues, charms with its wit, delights in the darkness it explores and pushes us into uncomfortable and fascinating reckonings with our biases, our assumptions and our careless consumerism. Ayesha draws her characters with such affection, and yet they are never anything but whole: complex and difficult, angry-making and problematic. The voice here is smart and mature, with a sort of high-step and energy that I adore.”  

She also described it as “a brilliant boundary-pushing contemporary novel that suggests that cultural appropriation might – at its darkest and most outrageous – be an act of consumption”. 

Begum said: “We are very excited to be publishing such a darkly funny, thrilling story which deftly, if obliquely, tackles one of the most interesting issues of our time. Drawing on the experience of being a South Asian woman, in a world enthralled by the culture of the West, Ayesha has created an uncanny place where the question of what it would mean to consume a culture is beguilingly realised to its greatest possible excess.” 

Siddiqi commented: “Writing this novel has involved a process of shining a torch into the dusty corners of my mind and my belly and then learning to react not with terror but with curiosity when the winged and crawly creatures that live in the silence come flooding out. My agent, Sara Langham, supports me with her insight and sensitivity and by sharing her visceral ‘yeses’, and I’m so excited to work with Sophie and Salma at Picador who have moved and encouraged me with their depth of understanding of the different strands of the story — I hope the novel connects with others too, and that we continue to shine light into the silent places.”