We Meant Well by Erum Shazia Hasan

In We Meant Well, the tautly written debut novel from Erum Shazia Hasan, Maya has worked for many years for an international charity, rising through the ranks to become director of the charity’s field office in Likanni, a small, isolated village in central Africa. The charity’s mandate is to improve the lives of children left orphaned by conflict and disease, and every year uses its stellar reputation and aggressive marketing to attract millions in donations from people all over the world. 

As the novel opens, Maya has taken a step back from the Likanni field office and hands the reins to Chantal, a colleague. At home in Los Angeles, where she is living with her husband and daughter, she answers the phone in the middle of the night. It is the charity’s head—in full damage-control mode—calling from Geneva to tell her that she must return to Likanni immediately to deal with an emergency. Marc, one of the field office staff—a colleague with whom Maya worked for years—has been accused of assaulting a woman from the local community. Though reluctant to leave her daughter, Maya complies, and, following an arduous journey, arrives in Likanni to find the charity’s compound surrounded by protesters. 

By now, Maya has learned that Marc’s accuser is Lele, a girl she knows well, the daughter of a local chief. Lele was also working in the field office, a position that Maya had secured for her. Maya narrates the story of her investigation into the circumstances surrounding an incident that, if handled poorly, could damage the charity’s global reputation and threaten its ability to attract funding. Facing pressure from the Geneva office to deal quickly and decisively with a situation that is turning more complex by the hour, Maya is also reeling from the discovery that her husband is having an affair. 

We Meant Well depicts a strong young woman pushed to the brink, grappling with personal and professional betrayals, who finds herself forced to confront an array of unpleasant realities, about herself, her work, and the people she thought she could trust. Hasan’s novel also comments on a bigger picture, regarding Western interference in the affairs of poorer nations, and suggests persuasively that good intentions don’t always mitigate the damage done. 

We Meant Well, in the diverting manner of a whodunit, grips the reader from the first page. But this is also a bluntly told story of human weakness and moral failure in which “truth” ultimately proves elusive. 

About the Author

Erum Shazia Hasan was born in Canada, raised in France, and is of Pakistani and Indian heritage. She designs initiatives to help communities improve their livelihoods, ensuring opportunities for women while protecting biodiversity. A Sustainable Development Consultant for various UN agencies, she lives in Toronto with her husband and their two children.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ ECW Press (April 11 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 280 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 177041665X
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1770416659

Ian Colford’s short fiction has appeared in Grain, The Antigonish Review, The Fiddlehead and other literary publications. His books are Evidence, The Crimes of Hector Tomás, Perfect World and A Dark House and Other Stories. His work has been shortlisted for the Thomas H. Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, the Journey Prize, and the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. A new collection of linked stories, Witness, will be published by Porcupine's Quill in spring 2023.