Never Among Equals

A Novel

Fiction - Mystery - Historical
242 Pages
Reviewed on 03/02/2021
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Rabia Tanveer for Readers' Favorite

Never Among Equals: A Novel by Fazle Chowdhury is the story of Firoze as he navigates life regardless of whatever curveball it throws at him. Set in 1913, Firoze Hazari is a Bengali man who finishes his education at Oxford University and decides to live on his terms instead of going back home to marry the woman his parents expect him to. Getting his flat in the heart of London and accepting a job that he loves proves to be the easiest decision of his life. However, fate truly challenges him when he loses his job and Firoze decides to join the British Army. From learning to live on the edge and embracing the unpredictable nature of war, Firoze knows that this is just the tip of the iceberg. With the Great War looming over him like death, Firoze takes on a mission that might just as well be suicide. Can he survive? Or will it be the end of the road for him?

There is a smoothness with which the narrative flows and allows the reader to just get lost in the story. Fazle Chowdhury introduces Firoze most subtly and effortlessly, two adjectives that perfectly describe Firoze. He is that kind of protagonist that seamlessly blends with the plot and adds cohesiveness to the story. He is not charismatic but he is reliable. He is a normal man who has strong opinions and is very determined (not very different from the people we know in real life). I love that there is never a dull moment in the story. Never Among Equals keeps moving forward without a hitch and comes to an end at the perfect moment. It is a must-read, very entertaining novel.

Romuald Dzemo

Never Among Equals: A Novel by Fazle Chowdhury is a compelling historical novel set against the backdrop of WWI, a story that follows a young man in his twenties as he sets out to build a future for himself. It is 1913 and Firoze Hazari, a hardworking, intelligent young man and a cricket player, is graduating from Oxford. With a degree in economics, he is not interested in going back to Bengal to join the family business or in the arranged marriage waiting for him back home. Renting a flat, he secures a job in an investment firm. But when he offers a piece of wise advice to the owner of the firm, he is shown the door, accused of betraying compliance policies. He joins the British army and serves as a special assistant to the Colonel, but unfortunate situations lead him to a mission to infiltrate the German lines during the war. Can he survive this dangerous mission and can he really be treated as an equal?

While Never Among Equals: A Novel is a tale of an intelligent, ambitious young man; it is also a story of a time and place. The author explores cultural differences and how they determine the choices characters make and what they have to face in a world brimming with turmoil, suspicion, and mistrust. The differences between the protagonist’s Indian background and urban London come out brilliantly in the narrative. Firoze is an ambitious character, a young man with the dream of becoming the next financial czar of London, but things don’t always work the way we fancy them, and it is the case with this multidimensional character. The writing explores the atmosphere during the war and what working people went through. The descriptions are terrific, from simple situations like when Firoze would rise in the morning to the chiming of Big Ben and find himself commuting to work amidst multitudes of people, getting swept up in the throngs, to the nightlife, to effects of the war, and the grueling frustration that slowly eats into the soul of the protagonist. The descriptive character of the narrative pulled me in as it gives life to both characters and elements of the setting. Fazle Chowdhury is a great storyteller with the unique gift for setting and character, writing scenes that come alive through the gorgeous prose and taking characters on adventures that are never lacking in realism and humanity. It is transporting.

Grant Leishman

Firoze Hizari was something of an outsider. Yes, he had been educated with the elite at Oxford and was building a respectable reputation as a financier and banker in the City of London, but first and foremost he was a colonial and a non-white colonial at that. Hailing originally from Bengal, in Never Among Equals: A Novel by Fazle Chowdhury, Firoze enters London society around 1913, when dark clouds are forming all over Europe as the world prepares to be thrown into the turmoil and destruction of WWI. Determined not to return to Bengal and the boring life of subtle servitude to the cause of his family’s business and his family itself, Firoze aims to make his name as a successful financier and entrepreneur. Joining a small investment firm in the City, Firoze begins to make a name for himself as a clever and innovative investor but he soon finds his outsider nature doesn’t bode well for his future, as one particular elite, English gentleman seems determined to be the architect of his downfall. As war encroaches on the lives of ordinary Britons, Firoze does his patriotic duty and joins the British Army. Working within a secret intelligence network and accused of being a spy, he heads out on a dangerous mission to prove himself that will put him smack-bang in the middle of enemy lines and immense danger.

Never Among Equals: A Novel is a fascinating insight into the class structure that was and still is such a vital part of the British society and especially colonial power of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Author Fazle Chowdhury has created a complex character, who although of the “right” class is very definitely of the “wrong” color. Even amongst the free thinkers and bonhomie of Oxford, one could feel Firoze’s understanding and acceptance of his outsider status and his inherent sadness at that fact. It was this and his burning desire to prove himself, without his family’s assistance, that was his motivating force, and as a reader one was really drawn to this. What I particularly enjoyed was the author’s exposition of the fecklessness and false patriotism of so many of his elite colleagues of the time. As long as one came from the right stock and belonged to all the right clubs, one was definitely beyond reproach or suspicion. That Firoze was able, on the whole, to successfully navigate this hidebound world and for it to be believable to the reader is a tribute to the author. I think the author effectively captured the period, the sentiment, and the innate classism of the period. We tend to forget what a momentous and tumultuous period for human history and development, the first thirty years of the nineteenth century truly was and it is good to have works like this to remind us. If you like historical fiction, especially of this period, this will be a good read for you. I can recommend this read.

K.C. Finn

Never Among Equals is a work of fiction in the historical and dramatic genres. It is aimed at mature readers and was penned by author Fazle Chowdhury. The story follows a young man named Firoze who lives in Oxford in 1913. Rejecting the call to return to Bengal, where a role in the family business and an arranged marriage await him, Firoze instead sets himself up with a London flat and a job at a firm investing in the British colonies. Firoze’s journey takes him from the safety of a clerical job to the frontlines of the British Army, to a deadly mission behind the German lines.

Author Fazle Chowdhury has crafted an eloquent and keenly penned work of fiction that really deepens the reader’s understanding of complex events, cultures, and dangerous operations surrounding the First World War, whilst also delivering a heartfelt and emotive piece of drama. One of the things which I found most engrossing about the work was its cinematic attention to detail, transforming the historically dry setting of pre-war Britain into a vibrant world filled with cultural details and vivid, visceral action scenes. The dialogue was also a standout element, as it really brought us close to Firoze and his deepest fears, as well as the emotive moments of triumph which he discovers throughout his wild journey during wartime. Combining these elements with a fascinating and fast-paced plot makes for the ideal historical fiction read. Overall, I would certainly recommend Never Among Equals to fans of historical fiction, intricate interpersonal drama, and for those longing to escape into masterful, immersive descriptions.

Vincent Dublado

A historical novel packed with action, drama, and intrigue, Never Among Equals by Fazle Chowdhury follows the saga of a young man named Firoze Hazari in London, around the time when the world is brewing with tension as the First World War looms. An onerous pile of expectations has been hanging over his head. His years at Oxford have strengthened his personality and made him self-reliant, and he wants nothing more than to prove to his family that he does not need their financial backing. Against his family’s request to join the family business in Bengal, he gets a job at an investment firm. The job proves problematic as Firoze warns his boss that the requirements of the firm pertaining to the portfolio on the German empire puts the firm’s investments at risk. This costs him his job and he joins the British Army. He volunteers for Operation Shaded Sienna, a plan to infiltrate German lines and bring back coordinates of their positions.

The bare bones of this novel form a strong plot and characterization. Fazle Chowdhury manages to focus on Hazari’s life and the circumstances surrounding his choices set against the backdrop of a brewing war. Chowdhury does not squeeze in too much historical information and provides readers with what they essentially need to know. You will get drawn into the drama that Hazari gets into. He has been accused twice of betrayal on separate occasions: The first is his alleged non-compliance to his firm, and the second is of withholding information about spy networks during his time in the army. The richness of the plot is made even more credible by how it paints 20th-century London through words that evoke the sentiments of the period. Never Among Equals is a compelling historical drama that is highly recommended.

Edith Wairimu

The events surrounding WWI are creatively reanimated in Fazle Chowdhury’s fascinating historical novel, Never Among Equals. Descended from a powerful family involved in British-ruled Bengal’s politics, business, and education, Firoze Hazari has his life planned ahead for him. This confident, independent man, however, goes against his father’s wishes of returning to Bengal, taking over the family business, and marrying the bride selected for him when he leaves Oxford and decides to work for an investment firm in London. Though challenging at every turn, his competitive work environment only strengthens Firoze’s resolve to create a life for himself, separate from the strong grasp of his family’s influence. In spite of some notable achievements in his work, Firoze is later laid off. The event plunges him into a dark place in his life until a friend suggests a different but riskier path.

Never Among Equals by Fazle Chowdhury follows Firoze’s life, covering the dispiriting obstacles the determined young man faces. It highlights Firoze’s strength as he emerges from each fall, showing him as a strong-minded man set on living life according to his own terms. I love that other characters in the novel are also complex. Each character hails from a different background and they are affected differently by the hardships that characterize the era in which the book is set. The background of the story increases its tension. Following a catastrophic war, the world struggles against a worldwide destructive pandemic and an alarming economic depression. The story’s turns are surprising and shocking, covering the cruelties suffered by victims of the war as well as Firoze’s ill-fated personal life and his struggle to belong in a culture prejudiced against him. Never Among Equals is a moving novel set during WWI that follows the uncertain life of a determined Indian man.