top of page
  • Writer's pictureThe Fiction Fox

Review: The Centre - Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi

Genre: Literary Fiction, thriller

Published: Gillian Flynn Books, July 2023 Rating: 4/5 stars

As the dark-academia-craze of the 2020’s has taken the bookish community by storm, I’ve been struggling to find my “subgenre” within it that I truly enjoy. After 3 years of searching, I think I’ve finally figured out my niche, which I like to call “weird dark academia”. Including Vita Nostra, Babel by R.F. Kuang, the works of Mona Awad and Suzanna Clark, these focus not on the romantic aesthetic of academia, but rather on its strange microcosm, elitism and privilege and the feelings of displacement that come when you don’t feel you belong. The Centre captures many of these same themes within a deliciously dark tale of a mysterious invite-only language school which boasts complete fluency in just ten days, but at a secret cost.

Anisa Ellahi, a second generation Pakistani immigrant, dreams of being a translator of “literatures Greats”. Instead, she’s mostly making due with subtitling mediocre Bollywood movies and having to rely on her parents financial support to get by. When her new boyfriend Adam, a man with an extraordinary aptitude for learning new languages, introduces her to The Centre; a secretive language course that promises to teach anyone to speak a language in just a 10-day course, Anisa decides she has little to lose. Skeptical but intrigued, she applies and surrenders herself to The Centre’s unusual methods, immerging 10 days later, fully fluent in German. As Anisa enmeshes herself further within The Centre, seduced by all that it’s made possible, she soon realizes the true cost of its services.

Although the plot and sinister mystery are interesting enough, The Centre truly shines in its thematic discussion of language and the nature of translation, colonialism, privilege and preservation through storytelling at its core. As someone who engages in translation heavily to the point where I barely read any fiction in my native tongue anymore, all of these topics are fascinating to me. Like Anisa, I love the multi-facetted process of translating, and I really related to the following passage in which she describes her view on it. “It’s not that translation is a subjective process exactly. In fact, in a way it’s highly mathematical. It’s about retaining the feeling, the thing underneath. It’s as if you go underground and there are all these shapes and colors, and there you see that, oh; “died” in this language is closest in color and shape, consistency and texture, to “passed away” in this other language. And it feels like a personal accomplishment when you make the match and haul the pair back up to the surface.”

The Centre isn’t solely celebration of translation though; it also points out the inherent duality of it. More than just words alone, we share, we take, and we change through the processing of experience from different people in this way. With every translation we make, we change minute things about the narrative, whether consciously or unintended. We not only take away something from the original narrative, but also absorb some of it into our own life-experiences, thereby changing ourselves. This all brings up discussions on the morality of this all: who is entitled to change, to interpret, and even to understand? How does it change our own identities? Many of these questions are similar to the ones R.F. Kuang raised in Babel last year, and although they’re very different in style and genre, I feel like they would make for good complimentary reads if you’re looking for more on this topic. Where Babel is far more heavy-handed and lecturing on its subject matter, I liked Siddiqi’s more satirical, contemporary take. That being said, the twist might be more of a marmite one…

Due to the role that storytelling (especially through literal “voices”) plays in this novel, I highly recommend the audiobook for this one, as it truly adds to the experience. The narrator does a fantastic job and it truly added a layer of immersion for me.

On a separate note: it always intrigues me to no end when books have vastly different covers from different publishers. Especially so when one is among my favourite covers of 2023, and the other is one I absolutely detest. Safe to say: Gillian Flynn Press/Zando Publishing knocked it out of the park with this edition. Picador’s alternate cover is best forgotten…

Many thanks to Gillian Flynn Books and Dreamscape Audio for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

You can find this book here on Goodreads.


bottom of page