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Consumed: A Sister's Story

Arifa Akbar

8 Reviews

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Memoirs

A moving memoir about TB, grief, sisterhood, poverty and the reservoir of blame, guilt and unreliable memories from a troubled childhood in Lahore and London.

'If her moving, engrossing, elegantly written memoir does not win prizes, there really is no justice in the literary world.' Lucy Atkins, Sunday Times

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.


When Arifa Akbar discovered that her sister had fallen seriously ill, she assumed there would be a brief spell in hospital and then she'd be home. This was not to be. It was not until the day before she died that the family discovered she was suffering from tuberculosis.

Consumed is a story of sisterhood, grief, the redemptive power of art and the strange mythologies that surround tuberculosis. It takes us from Keats's deathbed and the tubercular women of opera to the resurgence of TB in modern Britain today. Arifa travels to Rome to haunt the places Keats and her sister had explored, to her grandparent's house in Pakistan, to her sister's bedside at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead and back to a London of the seventies when her family first arrived, poor, homeless and hungry.

Consumed is an eloquent and moving excavation of a family's secrets and a sister's detective story to understand her sibling.

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Praise for Consumed: A Sister's Story

  • Beguiling . . . The story and the writing have an unusual mystery about them, with striking imagery and a relatable insight into the darknesses and half-truths of family life. For someone who doesn't read memoirs often, this one stands out for its eccentricity and elegiac splendour.

  • If [Akbar's] moving, engrossing, elegantly written memoir does not win prizes, there really is no justice in the literary world. - Sunday Times

  • A vivid and insightful portrait of sisterhood, art - and a troubled life cut short. - Guardian

  • Compelling, searingly honest, so real that, at times, you feel the burn on the skin, but the teller never exploits these emotions. Akbar's artistic sensibility turns what could be a misery memoir into a literary tour de force.

  • A brilliant book about loss and grief, about art and death, and, more importantly, about family and belonging. The strength of feeling is remarkable, but it's Arifa Akbar's writing that lifts it to an even higher plane of achievement.

  • I loved this haunting, beautiful exploration of sisterhood, love and loss. Consumed weaves together art history, medical mystery and grief memoir with enormous honesty and tenderness.

  • I'm bowled over. It's a searing, brilliant, dazzling memoir of sisterhood, mental illness, art and grief. Heartbreaking and beautiful. I can't recommend it highly enough.

  • A beautifully written memoir with the ghost of Fauzia haunting every page. - Herald

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Arifa Akbar

Arifa Akbar is the Guardian's chief theatre critic. A journalist for over twenty years, she is the former literary editor of the Independent, where she also worked as arts correspondent and news reporter. She has previously contributed to the Observer and the Financial Times. She is on the board of trustees for the Orwell Foundation and English PEN. Short pieces of her non-fiction have appeared in several anthologies. Consumed is her first book.

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