The Centre

Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi

GILLIAN FLYNN BOOKS

The Centre Cover

“What an absolutely stunning and unique novel! Ayesha has written a book that is not only thrilling, but also deeply thought provoking, a combination that is truly rare. And the voice! It’s dazzling.”

- GILLIAN FLYNN, GILLIAN FLYNN BOOKS

A New Yorker Best Book of the Year • A New York Times Editors’ Choice • An Amazon Editors’ Pick for Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

In this “dazzling” speculative debut, a London-based Pakistani translator furthers her stalled career by attending a mysterious language school that boasts near-instant fluency—but at a secret, sinister cost (Gillian Flynn)

REVIEWS

A New Yorker Best Book of the Year

A New York Times Editors’ Choice

Lilly’s Library Book Club Pick 2023

An Amazon Editors’ Pick for Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

One of the Most Anticipated Books of 2023
ELLE • SheReads • Library Journal • CrimeReads • BookRiot • New Scientist • Jump Scares

“It’s not just the skeletons lurking behind the ivy-covered walls of the institute that make the novel so propulsive—it’s also what The Centre has to say about class and the interplay of language and identity . . . . This is a book whose many delights and horrors are unlikely to be lost in translation.”

- RAFAEL FRUMKIN, THE NEW YORK TIMES

“The novel explores friendship, purpose, and power; it also frames language as intimate and embodied.”

- THE NEW YORKER

“Just as The Circle turned Silicon Valley culture into something deeply creepy, The Centre is Duolingo gone dark.”

- NATHALIE KERNOT, GQ (UK)
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“This Black Mirror take on the world of language labs and translation workshops opens up questions of cultural appropriation, the power of language, memory, and privilege . . . Even without the clever notion, I would have blazed through The Centre, because Siddiqi’s easy storytelling and her heroine Anisa’s sweet narrative voice slip down like summer rosé.”

- BIDISHA MAMATA, THE GUARDIAN

“This has all the makings of a high-concept thriller for the ages.”

- MATTHEW JACKSON, PASTE MAGAZINE

“Over and above its tightly scripted plot, The Centre engages with South Asian themes in unusual and memorable ways.”

- SOHINI BASAK, VOGUE INDIA

“Draws you in from the very first line, thrusting you straight into a world that steadily gets more dystopian. . . . Siddiqi’s debut novel, while an effortless read, raises big questions around appropriation, identity, the immigrant experience and language privilege.”

- THE HINDU

“The most fascinating debut I’ve read in years—enigmatic, biting, absurd, and right when you think you’ve got it figured out, utterly horrifying.”

- DANIEL KRAUS, NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF WHALEFALL AND THE SHAPE OF WATER (WITH GUILLERMO DEL TORO)

“Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi has crafted a gripping, surreal mystery about language, identity, and greed. The Centre explores impossible success at an equally impossible price—and the difference between merely paying for something and truly understanding its dark cost.”

- PENG SHEPHERD, BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF THE CARTOGRAPHERS

The Centre had me frantically guessing at every page—SO gripping and vivid that it’s become a spicy topic of discussion for me with my book club (that’s how you know it’s a hit). Between the debates and haunting concept, it makes me so excited about what Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi has up her sleeves for the future.”

- LILLY SINGH, LILLY'S LIBRARY

The Centre is as haunting as it is tempting; this book devoured me back.”

- SARAH GAILEY, AUTHOR OF JUST LIKE HOME AND EAT THE RICH

The Centre by Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi is a propulsive and profound read. I was gripped by the mystery haunting the core of the book— and equally gripped by Siddiqi’s exploration of the power of language, particularly for those pulled between multiple mother tongues. This is a debut of dazzling wit and insight.”

- HELEN PHILLIPS, AUTHOR OF THE NEED

The Centre is a banger! I don’t know how Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi managed to write a book that feels both cheery and terrifying, but The Centre draws you in with a gentle hand until it throws the mallet down in the last thirty pages. A terrific meditation on language, diaspora, alienation, and culture, The Centre will stay with you long after you read its last, luscious, loopy sentence.”

- CHELSEA G. SUMMERS, AUTHOR OF A CERTAIN HUNGER

“What begins as a darkly propulsive thriller gradually reveals itself to be a haunting and incisive meditation on language, translation, identity, and the far-reaching reverberations of colonialism. The Centre is a wickedly ingenious debut that, like the mysterious institution at its heart, is far more complex than it first appears.”

- ANTONIA ANGRESS, AUTHOR OF SIRENS & MUSES

“I haven’t read anything this wonderful or brilliant in ages. I profoundly loved this book.”

- JENNIFER CROFT, MAN BOOKER INTERNATIONAL PRIZE-WINNING TRANSLATOR, CRITIC, AND WRITER

“At once a twisting mystery and nuanced exploration of identity and assimilation, The Centre cuts deep. Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi has written a compelling, witty, sometimes gruesome tale of how we use language to connect and to sever, appropriate, and explore. I’ll be mulling her brilliance for some time.”

- JULIA FINE, AUTHOR OF MADDALENA AND THE DARK AND THE UPSTAIRS HOUSE

“A mystery-thriller-satire with social justice messaging? Yes, please! Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi’s compelling debut takes on racism, classism, capitalism and colonialism, all in a creepy, entertaining and engrossing tale of the price we’ll pay to get ahead.”

- KARLA J. STRAND, MS.

“For fans of genre-blended novels with a must-keep-reading-to-know-what-is-going-on feel.”

- JAMIE CANAVES, BOOKRIOT

“A vicious and entertaining speculative satire of late-stage capitalism.”

- MOLLY ODINTZ, CRIMEREADS

“Siddiqi’s novel veers into the horror realm without abandoning the truly fascinating drama at the heart of the story . . . The Centre is Siddiqi’s first novel, a dialogue-rich drama with comic undertones and a creepy thriller nestled within.”

- SHAHINA PIYARALI, SHELF AWARENESS

“With its focus on language learning, The Centre fills a gap in my life I didn’t even know it had . . . This bitingly satirical novel shows how (neo)colonising groups strip marginalised languages of their autonomy and cachet. Rather than a tool of communication and aesthetic enjoyment, language becomes a vehicle for domination and the erasure of heritage.”

- CLAIRE CHAMBERS, DAWN

“Incredible . . . it’s creepy AF, in the best way possible. Highly recommend!”

- LAMYA H, AUTHOR OF HIJAB BUTCH BLUES

“Siddiqi’s cleverly written debut is atmospheric and unsettling… the suspense builds quietly toward the final startling reveal and many interconnected social issues—immigration, language, class, privilege, gender roles—are carefully exposed. The questions raised by this heady story and its abrupt ending are perfect for book club discussions.”

- SARAH SULLIVAN, LIBRARY JOURNAL

“Manazir Siddiqi’s ambitious debut packs insightful observations about racism, classism, and colonialism into a dark mystery…Anisa’s perceptive narration propels the novel, and Manazir Siddiqi’s sharp cultural analysis of England, Pakistan, and India deepens her devilish plot…this marks Manazir Siddiqi as a writer to watch.”

- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

“Filled with astute insights into life as a brown person in a predominantly white country and how differences of class, religion, and nationality can bring about rifts in solidarity between people who share a racial or ethnic background, the novel offers a mystery rife with social critique…A fast-paced thriller with its finger firmly on the pulse of contemporary social discourse.”

- KIRKUS

“I was speculating earlier which book had the prettiest cover in the guide and this is a strong contender. . . For all my reader, insider-y nerds, I appreciate how this book, which is written by a translator, digs into what it takes to create a well-done translation . . . This is about the nuances of translation but also identity, about translating meaning across cultures, the politics of translation, and cultural appropriation, all wrapped up in the package of a speculative thriller. This book feels like it could very much be in conversation with Yellowface.

- KIRKUS

“With dark humor, surreal twists, and a probing exploration of language and success, The Centre takes readers on a gripping journey through Karachi, London, and New Delhi, leaving them questioning the sacrifices they would make.”

- SAURABH CHAWLA, STORIZEN

ABOUT THE BOOK

Anisa Ellahi dreams of being a translator of “great works of literature,” but mostly spends her days subtitling Bollywood movies and living off her parents’ generous allowance. Adding to her growing sense of inadequacy, her mediocre white boyfriend, Adam, has successfully leveraged his savant-level aptitude for languages into an enviable career. But when Adam learns to speak Urdu practically overnight, Anisa forces him to reveal his secret.

Adam begrudgingly tells her about The Centre, an elite, invite-only program that guarantees complete fluency in any language, in just ten days. This sounds, to Anisa, like a step toward the life she’s always wanted. Stripped of her belongings and all contact with the outside world, she enrolls and undergoes The Centre’s strange and rigorous processes. But as Anisa enmeshes herself further within the organization, seduced by all that it’s made possible, she soon realizes the hidden cost of its services.

By turns darkly comic and surreal, and with twists as page-turning as they are shocking, The Centre journeys through Karachi, London, and New Delhi, interrogating the sticky politics of language, translation, and appropriation along the way. Through Anisa’s addictive tale of striving and self-actualization, Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi ultimately asks the reader: What is the real price we pay in our scramble to the center?

Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi

Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi has previously published short stories, reviews, translations, essays, monologues, and poetry. She has also worked as an editor and a playwright. Ayesha was contributing editor for the Serial Productions podcast The Trojan Horse Affair, and has been anthologized by Tilted Axis Press, Peepal Tree Press, Influx Press, EMC, and Oberon Books, and published in The Independent, Ceasefire, The Theatre Times, Wasafiri, and Media Diversified. Her plays and monologues have had rehearsed readings and stagings at venues including the Rich Mix, Theatre503, and the Tristan Bates Theatre in London, and the Impact Hub in Birmingham, and she’s also written for BBC Radio 4. Ayesha is from Karachi and lives in London.

Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi