British author Shamim Sarif displays a mastery of both description and dialogue. Her flair for word and image alike is said to lend a cinematic quality to her novels. “I love that when you write you must see it on a screen in your mind,” Sarif says in an email interview.
At 36, she has already distinguished herself in print — most recently with her second novel, Despite The Falling Snow (2004), which journeys between present-day Boston and post-Stalinist Russia. She debuted with The World Unseen (2001), a tale of two women in 1950s apartheid South Africa who fall in love, turning each other's worlds upside down. It commanded both a Betty Trask Award and the Pendleton May First Novel Award.
Sarif is now turning from page to screen with I Can't Think Straight, her upcoming film about two young women — one of Indian origin, the other Palestinian and about to get married — who fall in love. She sums up the film's theme with “You can't find true love until you are true to yourself.”
“Their passion for each other is subdued or denied as they try to come to terms with what acceptance of their feelings would mean to themselves, their families and communities,” Sarif explains.
But she points out that despite the tragic element, I Can't Think Straight is a romantic comedy. She says the film “tries to capture the quirks and character of two very different worlds and two women who are so opposed in character but who bring out the best in each other.”
“I love characters who dare to challenge the world around them, even in ways that may appear quite contained,” Sarif says. Her novels attest to that penchant, as will her movie. “These are not one-note roles to play,” Sarif says of the film's two leads. “They both teach each other something quite unexpected.”
I Can't Think Straight's Palestinian character, Tala, “knows a lot about everyone but herself,” Sarif says. “She is intelligent, feisty and has the gift of being able to read emotional situations for her friends and family, but she remains remarkably unable or unwilling to look at her own feelings.”
Tala's counterpart, Leyla, is “sure of herself, but in a very unassuming way,” according to Sarif. “She would rather not rock the boat unless she has to — but when she falls in love with Tala, there is no question in her mind that she does have to!”
Although she's best known for writing books, Sarif has always had an interest in filmmaking. “I was instinctively drawn to films, and always had a wish to explore what made one film more emotionally satisfying or compelling than another, to figure out how it was that great films carried the audience with them,” she says.
Her first full-length written work was not a novel but a screenplay. She has since adapted both of her novels for film: Despite the Falling Snow will be directed by Kevin Reynolds later this year, and Sarif will direct the film version of The World Unseen early next year.