The plot of Genie and Paul crystallises around 2003's Cyclone Kalunde, 
a natural disaster that badly affected agriculture on Mauritius. Nasa
The plot of Genie and Paul crystallises around 2003's Cyclone Kalunde, a natural disaster that badly affected agriculture on Mauritius. Nasa

Genie and Paul is an exploration of identity set in north London



Genie and Paul, Natasha Soobramanien's debut, is loosely based on the novel Paul et Virginie by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, a slice of colonial sentimentality written in 1787 and apparently full of kindly slave masters and charming natives.

Soobramanien transposes the central relationship between Paul and Virginie onto her eponymous protagonists. In the original novel, Paul and Virginie are lovers who are like brother and sister, while Genie and Paul really are brother and sister, sharing the same mother but with different fathers.

They move to London from Mauritius as children and their different relationships to their birth country form complementary poles: for Paul, Mauritius is the Eden of his childhood to which, it turns out, return is always a gesture of self-annihilation; for Genie, it is little more than a place name in a passport. For Genie, Mauritius is a private language (Creole, spoken at home) and a narrative spread thin through multiple retellings; for Paul, it is the object of a homesickness that spreads to poison his adult life, even as he ostensibly forgets Mauritius and stops longing for it.

The novel itself shares aspects of both positions: imbued with an intense sense of place that it brings to bear equally on London and Mauritius, it remains at least initially at a careful distance from the latter, filtering the direct experience of the island through literary representations.

In the context of that vague umbrella term, "the immigrant experience", this feels truthful: one's relationship with a lost homeland is bound to ricochet between indifference and fascination, numbness and pain, because the lost place always leaves a gap that the new home can't entirely fill. The best moments in Genie and Paul are when Soobramanien allows herself to be specific, as in an engaging passage in which Genie sorts her collection of novelty soaps, most of which have lost their smell: "All her efforts at self-control, forbidding herself the pleasure of using these soaps (this thwarted pleasure an odd pleasure in itself), all efforts to preserve the integrity of her collection had proved pointless: having been lumped together in the same basket all these years, they had pretty much come to smell of one another."

A comparable system of categorisation by imaginary attributes haunts the margins of the novel: the colonial and neocolonial hierarchies that have rendered Mauritius a kind of lost zone, full of an incongruous mix of rich international tourists and people so poor they can never leave.

Soobramanien vividly describes the forced deportation of people from the Chagos Islands, made homeless in the early 1970s to make room for a US military base. Not being able to leave, not being able to go back, coming from a place that might as well be nowhere: these are, Soobramanien makes increasingly clear as the book goes on, not just nostalgic literary tropes but real violations inflicted on real people. When an old friend of Paul's asks him if riots in Mauritius were reported in England, Paul experiences a pulse of shame: from the perspective of England, Mauritius barely exists.

It only appears in the global media when affected by suitably global events, and preferably apolitical events like weather: Cyclone Kalunde, for example, the 2003 disaster around which the book's plot crystallises.

Soobramanien deftly describes the experience of returning to a long-lost "home" only to find that one is not fully recognised by those who never left. When Genie goes back to Mauritius for the first time since early childhood to find Paul, she feels compelled to insist to a hotel bartender, who has no reason to care, that she is "not a tourist".

And yet, she acknowledges the assessment of Mauritians, who do not find in her one of their own: "It had been apparent to everyone Genie had met back in Mauritius that she was a foreigner, even before she opened her mouth."

It is different for Paul, of whom Soobramanien tells us a number of times that his skin is "the colour of honey"; it's also Paul who, for the most part, ventriloquises descriptions such as: "Her hair was a shinier blue-black and her blue-brown eyes gleamed in her brown skin." Sickly sweet phrases such as "honey-coloured" (part of a well-known menu of gourmet caste distinctions: chocolate, café au lait) are hard to swallow in this context. Their very sweetness echoes the colonial European view of "backward" nations as childlike and in need of a firm hand.

Genie, however, knows how to make the multiple estrangements of identity into something easy and familiar. Not coincidentally, she is a Londoner: the city is the novel's other beloved place and specialises, like many big cities, in a high-octane alienation against which Genie's rootlessness appears quite mundane.

Throughout Soobramanien describes London with tender attentiveness; as Genie begins her search for Paul, not yet realising he's left for Mauritius, she loses herself in "places so familiar she barely saw them any more ... streets where all kinds of Londoners came together ... places where memories of Paul through the years were layered one over the other". Perhaps all big cities offer this possibility of losing one's lostness, because they are essentially impersonal.

Paul's second return to the island is prompted by an accident: when Genie takes an ecstasy tablet he has given her and becomes seriously ill, he leaves London for Mauritius hoping to expiate his guilt - not just the guilt of having harmed Genie but the larger, more inchoate guilt of having left the island in the first place, though he did so not of his own will and as a child.

The drug experience, with its promise of immediacy and community, stands in for the fantasies of a "natural" life that inspired the novel Paul et Virginie. But this desire can only return as a poison: Genie and Paul's central axiom might read: "You can never go back."

Paul's refusal to accept this loss eventually destroys him; Genie, younger, more flexible and less burdened by memories, avoids his fate by treating the whole concept of home with the practised lightness of the young, urban western European she has become.

Genie and Paul is that well-known phenomenon: a promising first novel.

At times the pace drags and the many different voices have a tendency to blur into the same homiletic tone, but there are moments of brightness throughout and the last third of the book is moving, engaging and sharply written.

The book's flaws can be partly blamed on the dull weight of contemporary anovelistic mores: it is as if a whole generation of writers have been officially tasked with the collective project of interrogating memory and storytelling traditions.

Both are fine subjects as far as they go but, because any narrative is always already an interrogation of memory and storytelling, they are like calorie-free substitutes for the richness of real concerns. Soobramanien really does have the latter, underneath the veneer of convention, and at its best Genie and Paul fuses the familiar and the unfamiliar and strikes out for its own territory.

Hannah Forbes Black is a writer and artist who lives in London. Her work has appeared in The Guardian and Intelligence Squared.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: Dooda Solutions
Based: Lebanon
Founder: Nada Ghanem
Sector: AgriTech
Total funding: $300,000 in equity-free funding
Number of employees: 11

KEY DATES IN AMAZON'S HISTORY

July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to Amazon.com, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the Amazon.com platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Sav
Started: 2021
Founder: Purvi Munot
Based: Dubai
Industry: FinTech
Funding: $750,000 as of March 2023
Investors: Angel investors

Day 4, Abu Dhabi Test: At a glance

Moment of the day Not much was expected – on Sunday or ever – of Hasan Ali as a batsman. And yet he lit up the late overs of the Pakistan innings with a happy cameo of 29 from 25 balls. The highlight was when he launched a six right on top of the netting above the Pakistan players’ viewing area. He was out next ball.

Stat of the day – 1,358 There were 1,358 days between Haris Sohail’s previous first-class match and his Test debut for Pakistan. The lack of practice in the multi-day format did not show, though, as the left-hander made an assured half-century to guide his side through a potentially damaging collapse.

The verdict As is the fashion of Test matches in this country, the draw feels like a dead-cert, before a clatter of wickets on the fourth afternoon puts either side on red alert. With Yasir Shah finding prodigious turn now, Pakistan will be confident of bowling Sri Lanka out. Whether they have enough time to do so and chase the runs required remains to be seen.

SPECS

Engine: 2-litre 4-cylinder petrol (V Class); electric motor with 60kW or 90kW powerpack (EQV)
Power: 233hp (V Class, best option); 204hp (EQV, best option)
Torque: 350Nm (V Class, best option); TBA (EQV)
On sale: Mid-2024
Price: TBA

The specs

Engine: Twin-turbocharged 4-litre V8
Power: 542bhp
Torque: 770Nm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Price: From Dh1,450,000
On sale: Now

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: Haltia.ai
Started: 2023
Co-founders: Arto Bendiken and Talal Thabet
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: AI
Number of employees: 41
Funding: About $1.7 million
Investors: Self, family and friends

'Gold'

Director:Anthony Hayes

Stars:Zaf Efron, Anthony Hayes

Rating:3/5

UAE athletes heading to Paris 2024

Equestrian

Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi, Abdullah Al Marri, Omar Al Marzooqi, Salem Al Suwaidi, and Ali Al Karbi (four to be selected).

Judo
Men: Narmandakh Bayanmunkh (66kg), Nugzari Tatalashvili (81kg), Aram Grigorian (90kg), Dzhafar Kostoev (100kg), Magomedomar Magomedomarov (+100kg); women's Khorloodoi Bishrelt (52kg).

Cycling
Safia Al Sayegh (women's road race).

Swimming

Men: Yousef Rashid Al Matroushi (100m freestyle); women: Maha Abdullah Al Shehi (200m freestyle).

Athletics

Maryam Mohammed Al Farsi (women's 100 metres).

How to turn your property into a holiday home
  1. Ensure decoration and styling – and portal photography – quality is high to achieve maximum rates.
  2. Research equivalent Airbnb homes in your location to ensure competitiveness.
  3. Post on all relevant platforms to reach the widest audience; whether you let personally or via an agency know your potential guest profile – aiming for the wrong demographic may leave your property empty.
  4. Factor in costs when working out if holiday letting is beneficial. The annual DCTM fee runs from Dh370 for a one-bedroom flat to Dh1,200. Tourism tax is Dh10-15 per bedroom, per night.
  5. Check your management company has a physical office, a valid DTCM licence and is licencing your property and paying tourism taxes. For transparency, regularly view your booking calendar.
COMPANY PROFILE

Name: SmartCrowd
Started: 2018
Founder: Siddiq Farid and Musfique Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech / PropTech
Initial investment: $650,000
Current number of staff: 35
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Various institutional investors and notable angel investors (500 MENA, Shurooq, Mada, Seedstar, Tricap)

BUNDESLIGA FIXTURES

Friday (UAE kick-off times)

Borussia Dortmund v Paderborn (11.30pm)

Saturday 

Bayer Leverkusen v SC Freiburg (6.30pm)

Werder Bremen v Schalke (6.30pm)

Union Berlin v Borussia Monchengladbach (6.30pm)

Eintracht Frankfurt v Wolfsburg (6.30pm)

Fortuna Dusseldof v  Bayern Munich (6.30pm)

RB Leipzig v Cologne (9.30pm)

Sunday

Augsburg v Hertha Berlin (6.30pm)

Hoffenheim v Mainz (9pm)

 

 

 

 

 

Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022

First match: November 20
Final 16 round: December 3 to 6
Quarter-finals: December 9 and 10
Semi-finals: December 13 and 14
Final: December 18

Some of Darwish's last words

"They see their tomorrows slipping out of their reach. And though it seems to them that everything outside this reality is heaven, yet they do not want to go to that heaven. They stay, because they are afflicted with hope." - Mahmoud Darwish, to attendees of the Palestine Festival of Literature, 2008

His life in brief: Born in a village near Galilee, he lived in exile for most of his life and started writing poetry after high school. He was arrested several times by Israel for what were deemed to be inciteful poems. Most of his work focused on the love and yearning for his homeland, and he was regarded the Palestinian poet of resistance. Over the course of his life, he published more than 30 poetry collections and books of prose, with his work translated into more than 20 languages. Many of his poems were set to music by Arab composers, most significantly Marcel Khalife. Darwish died on August 9, 2008 after undergoing heart surgery in the United States. He was later buried in Ramallah where a shrine was erected in his honour.

Our legal consultant

Name: Dr Hassan Mohsen Elhais

Position: legal consultant with Al Rowaad Advocates and Legal Consultants.

ROUTE TO TITLE

Round 1: Beat Leolia Jeanjean 6-1, 6-2
Round 2: Beat Naomi Osaka 7-6, 1-6, 7-5
Round 3: Beat Marie Bouzkova 6-4, 6-2
Round 4: Beat Anastasia Potapova 6-0, 6-0
Quarter-final: Beat Marketa Vondrousova 6-0, 6-2
Semi-final: Beat Coco Gauff 6-2, 6-4
Final: Beat Jasmine Paolini 6-2, 6-2

'Worse than a prison sentence'

Marie Byrne, a counsellor who volunteers at the UAE government's mental health crisis helpline, said the ordeal the crew had been through would take time to overcome.

“It was worse than a prison sentence, where at least someone can deal with a set amount of time incarcerated," she said.

“They were living in perpetual mystery as to how their futures would pan out, and what that would be.

“Because of coronavirus, the world is very different now to the one they left, that will also have an impact.

“It will not fully register until they are on dry land. Some have not seen their young children grow up while others will have to rebuild relationships.

“It will be a challenge mentally, and to find other work to support their families as they have been out of circulation for so long. Hopefully they will get the care they need when they get home.”

65

Directors: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods

Stars: Adam Driver, Ariana Greenblatt, Chloe Coleman

Rating: 2/5

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