Saman Shad’s The Matchmaker begins with a wedding. Saima is a matchmaker for the Pakistani community in Sydney, and is seeing another happy couple she has brought together tie the knot. Ironically, Saima has firmly shelved the idea of romance for herself – that is, until she meets the mysterious Kal.
Kal is witty and handsome, but world-weary. Like Saima, he is finding navigating his thirties a discombobulating experience – made all the more bewildering as he comes to terms with his status as a third culture kid. Reeling from a recent break-up, Kal is at a crossroads. Saima opens him up to new ways of thinking about identity and culture, and sparks fly.
Problems quickly arise when Kal’s parents, Ruby and George, hire Saima to matchmake for their son – on the condition that Kal is not to know that they are engineering the situation. Saima agrees, but inevitably complications abound.
Meanwhile, Saima struggles to continue to build her business as she endures community gossip. Her methods are seen as unconventional by the Desi elders – much like Saima herself. Flying in the face of tradition, she prioritises romantic compatibility over other factors, such as wealth or class.
Saima is continually forced to face the complexities of the juxtaposition between modernity and tradition – both professionally, and personally. How should she navigate her budding feelings for Kal? Where does the feeling of belonging originate? And why are the intricacies of desire so difficult?
While The Matchmaker is a romance, it offers more than a simple love story. The characters are layered and richly detailed, and the Sydney setting is vivid and evocative. Shad manages to imbricate the real and digital worlds adroitly, while also delicately critiquing Australian societal and cultural norms.
Shad raises complex questions around what it means to feel at a crossroads of belonging. She examines what it means to be a part of a culture that bridges two worlds and, in so doing, explores the complexities of the desire for belonging on a personal level.
The Matchmaker, Saman Shad
Publisher: Viking Australia
Publication Date: 31 January 2023