In the preamble to his new book, Ayesha’s Gift, Martin Sixsmith admits that he, like many white Britons, took little interest in Pakistan. 

As a country it appeared distant, alien and dangerous. Two events made him think again. An appeal for help from a young British Pakistani woman, followed by a tragedy in his own life, drew him into the writing of this book and, with it, an understanding of the shared concerns and common humanity that unite us. The book grew from these facts, but it is not a factual documentary.

Ayesha is a Cambridge graduate who has a thriving IT consultancy business in London. Coming to the UK from Pakistan as a young child, she had made a success of her life there. But when her father is murdered on a visit to his native village near Karachi, her world is turned upside down.

Ayesha contacts Sixsmith to help her find the truth about her father. Her quest to find his killers takes her out of her English comfort zone back to Pakistan. There she encounters violence, threats and untruths. The search for the circumstances of her father’s death reveals much about his lifestyle that was contrary to what she believed. She began to question how well she had known him.

In Ayesha’s Gift, the character named Martin is not Sixsmith, although he shares many of his thoughts and sorrows. Ayesha is not Ayesha, because the real Ayesha insisted that her identity be protected. As one read the pages that follow, one understands why all the main characters have been changed, locations altered and events rewritten. The story is a fictionalised account and a tale of detection.

Ayesha has a brittle personality, which presents quite a challenge for Martin as he starts working with her. Sorrow permeates much of the book’s narrative and the strange world they discover on their trips together to Pakistan do not make things any easier.

However, When Ayesha gets to hear of Sixsmith’s brother's unexpected suicide, the tragedy and their mutual personal suffering elicit a more compassionate side to her and a poignant bond forms between them. The surprise discoveries behind his brother’s death and her loss of her father, begs the question as to how well we actually know the people closest to us?

The skilful blending of Ayesha’s story and Sixsmith’s loss, and the dynamics of their working relationship add a fascinating human dimension. This, coupled with the intrigue involved with their visits to Pakistan, add much colour and depth to the book.

Although it might be difficult to separate fact from fiction, Ayesha’s Gift is rich in content and provides for a complex, exciting and hugely satisfying read.

Sixsmith was educated at Oxford, Harvard and the Sorbonne. He worked for the BBC in Moscow, Washington, Brussels and Warsaw, and for the government as director of communications and press secretary. He is now a writer, presenter and journalist, living in London. He is the author of two novels, Spin and I Heard Lenin Laugh, and several works of non-fiction, including Philomena, which was later made into a film starring Judi Dench.

(R336 at Loot.co.za)