There are times when something is so bad it just has to be said. In the pursuit of art and greatness, there are hits, misses and disasters, and when it is the last of those, someone has to break it to the person behind it.
And that can be a tough pill to swallow. Especially when it feels like the whole world is watching.
All that hard work you’ve put in. All those sleepless nights. All those promises you made that it would be great. All those people you were going to prove wrong suddenly proven right. Millions of eyes peering at your every move – and all for some critic to waltz along and tell you that the culmination of your entire life was, to put it lightly, bad.
There is much to be said for the great personal risk that a person takes when writing a book. That risk is doubled when that book is an autobiography, because not only is one’s writing up for a thrashing, so is their entire life.
In that vein, one nice thing to be said about Reham Khan’s autobiography is that it was a brave move to actually go ahead and publish it. Especially after the storm that leaked manuscripts of her book caused a couple of months ahead of the official release date.
Other than that, there really are no nice things, and a lot of very mean things, one can say about Reham’s autobiographical effort.
That is a shame of course, because rarely do books get so much free publicity and have an entire nation clamouring to read them. Sure, that hype was because everyone wanted some dirt on Imran Khan. And dirt they got – in copious amounts at that.
But this could have been an opportunity for Reham to do something grand and write a book that would wow everyone. It was an opportunity to fight the good fight and use this organic buzz to say something important. Indeed, the topic she starts with is domestic abuse.
From the first chapter, it seems that Reham is going to say something important. There is no doubt that she will get to Imran, but on her way she will take on the big ills of our society. But it never actually comes to it.
At one point, describing her first marriage, Reham says that “Those diary entries of a young, confused teenager from the summer of 1992 are painful to read.” Knowing the chronic problem of arranged marriages gone sour, this is a truly sad thing to read. Unfortunately, reading Reham’s book is nearly as painful to the reader as reading those diary entries must have been.
That notwithstanding, because of the sheer weight of the topic, the reader can forgive the bad copy, and the worse writing. What they can’t forgive is the sloppy, self-indulgent, leviathan documenting the life of what seems to be a disney character.
It is a strange thing to call an autobiography self-centred. It is, after all, supposed to be about the writer. An autobiography that isn’t self-centred would be a bad one. And the genre is often nothing more than vanity projects. Instances of good autobiographies that make for solid literature are rare.
But Reham’s is bad even by those very low standards.
Much is to be said about the content of the book. Much has been said about it even before its release. Much more can be said even now. But the content aside, what is unquestionable is that the book is a dumpster fire. It is a trainwreck. It is a trainwreck inside a dumpster fire.
And even if every single bit of it is true, the way she has written it still doesn’t put her in a good light. Perhaps the narrative voice she was trying to go for was that of a breezy, charming ‘it’ girl that got the short end of the stick but showed inner steel. At least that’s what she says again and again in the book. What it comes across as instead is self-indulgent, petty and written in a hurry.
In one instance she claims that she was reading Confucius at age 12. At another she says one of the books that had her engrossed at that age was Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Considering the great fondness with which she recalls her parents, one wonders who ever let a child near a book so full of evil and whether it had any effect on her.
The constant reiteration of how good she was at practically everything does not do her any favours. “The life of a warrior is lonely” she writes a few chapters into the book. By page 23, she had covertly claimed she was a bigger deal than Benazir Bhutto.
Again, that is a pretty smug thing to say about yourself. At another point, when recounting her childhood, she says her biggest weakness was being too perfect. Her great problems being that girls at school would get jealous about how perfect her skin was and how she never seemed to gain any weight.
This does her no favour either.
There are some personality types on whom a certain arrogance looks attractive. Reham’s second husband is actually one of them. She seems to have wanted to emulate that but not seem to be trying too hard in the process. That has just resulted in making it look even worse.
What is even more disturbing is her insistence on her own perfection.
Her descriptions of her life with Imran Khan are fascinating. Of course, the very nature of the book has made it impossible to believe. That is not to say that she is lying, but just that the stakes are so high and the claims so big that they cannot quite be considered authoritative. The value of the individual events is for the reader to decide, of course, but some of the raunchier claims have made all of it suspect.
True or not, the claims are so outlandish that they are hard to believe. And if they are hard to believe, then the rest of it can be questioned as well.
One thing that is clear is that no one has bankrolled this project. As the book shows, there is enough vanity in it for this to be all her. Besides, no one would pay money to have this written. And if they did, they would probably insist upon a ghostwriter. But if somehow this has been bankrolled, then the person funding has been seriously swindled out of their money.
One feels most strongly for Reham’s son Sahir. Not because of some conservative feeling about his mother discussing her life in such detail, but because apparently he is the one that helped Reham bang out the book and edited it. In her acknowledgement, she starts by saying that she doesn’t have anyone to thank. That is reflective of the entire book. But she also gives a tribute to her son and his friends who were apparently her team of editors. No wonder.