While The Matchmaker’s title suggests the lead character is a stately woman in her 50s from Mumbai, Saman Shad’s debut novel gives us quite a different picture. Saima is in her 30s and runs a modern matchmaking service for the Pakistani community in Sydney that offers a six-month courtship period to ensure the couple’s compatibility. Her contemporary approach doesn’t appeal to the whole community, which has led to a decline in business and financial precarity. However, her fortunes turn when she meets Khalid.
Khalid (Kal for short) is a 30-year-old management consultant with a track record of dating women outside his culture. His parents offer Saima a life-changing fee to set up their son with a Pakistani wife. What Kal’s parents don’t know is that he and Saima have already had a meet-cute, when she presumed he was her Uber driver after a wedding.
The indecisive Kal and outspoken Saima are opposites, defined by their respective suburban upbringings. Growing up on the north shore, Kal’s proximity to whiteness and privilege assimilates him into “Australian culture” and disconnects him from community ties. Saima, on the other hand, grew up in Western Sydney among the conservative Pakistani diaspora and endured the stigma of being unmarried with a divorced mother. Class divisions create tension, even within the same cultural group.
The book taps into the unrelenting spiral of dating in the age of Hinge. Saima’s dating agency is a modernised solution to the traditional, personalised South Asian matchmaking services still used to this day. The qualms Saima – as well as her clients and friends – express about the limited dating pool and the challenges of finding men with shared values aren’t dissimilar to my single South Asian girlfriends who seek serious partners from the same cultural background.
My favourite scene in any romantic movie is when the leads realise their discord is an act of verbal foreplay that masks their true feelings for each other. Shad executes this build-up with endearing coyness, following a tradition that stretches back to Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet.
The Matchmaker’s conversational style and relatable depictions of family dynamics, diasporic communities, and finding love and friendship make it easy to devour. Shad optioning this book into a television series or feature film? A perfect match.
Viking, 320pp, $32.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 11, 2023 as "Saman Shad, The Matchmaker".
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