We Meant Well

Hasan, Erum Shazia

  • Longlisted for the 2023 Scotiabank Giller Prize

    September 2023 selection for Great Group Reads by the Women’s National Book Association

    “Unsparing and compassionate … A novel of harrowing eloquence, We Meant Well explores compelling cultural contrasts and the ambiguity of charitable outreach.” — Foreword Reviews

    A propulsive debut that grapples with timely questions about what it means to be charitable, who deserves what, and who gets the power to decide

    It’s the middle of the night in Los Angeles when Maya, a married mother of one, receives the phone call. Her colleague Marc has been accused of assaulting a local girl in Likanni, where they operate a charitable orphanage. Can she get on the next flight?

    When Maya arrives, protesters surround the compound. The accuser is Lele, her former protégé and the chief’s daughter. There are no witnesses, no proof of any crime.

    What happened that night? And what will happen to the orphanage if this becomes a scandal? Caught between Marc and Lele, the charity and the villagers, her marriage and new temptations, and between worlds, Maya lives the secret contradictions of the aid worker: there to serve the most deprived, but ultimately there to govern.

    As Maya feels the pleasures, freedoms, and humanity of life in Likanni, she recognizes that her American life is inextricably woven into this violent reality — and that dishonesty in one place affects the realities in another.


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  • 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.

  • Published: April 2023

    ISBN: 9781770416659

    Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.5 in.

    Pages: 272


“Unsparing and compassionate…A novel of harrowing eloquence, We Meant Well explores compelling cultural contrasts and the ambiguity of charitable outreach.” — Foreword Reviews

“With a daring use of craft both exacting in detail and sensual in tone, Erum Shazia Hasan has written a compelling novel of one woman’s struggle to restore her equilibrium, her humanity, and ultimately her truth amid the betrayals of her personal world and the threatening chaos of her professional life. We Meant Well is a remarkable literary debut by a gifted new voice.” — CS Richardson, award-winning author of All the Colour in the World

We Meant Well, in the diverting manner of a whodunit, grips the reader from the first page.” — Miramichi Reader

“Uncomfortable, insightful, and nuanced, We Meant Well explores the shattered legacy of colonialism, the impossibility of doing good without mixed motivations, and the painful power dynamics that underpin aid work around the world.” — Open Book

“Though these coalescing personal dilemmas might risk making the novel convoluted, they instead make it richer, with Hasan giving each crisis the evaluation it needs...This emotional acuity, mixed in with thought-provoking moral questions, makes the novel a fascinating and illuminating journey for any reader.” — Broadview Magazine

“Hasan tantalizes readers: she opts not for a neat and tidy ending, but instead positions her characters for a destiny-defining reckoning beyond the page.” — Shelf Awareness

We Meant Well is an urgent and engrossing read about intention versus impact. Hasan’s storytelling shines as her international aid worker protagonist confronts the scandal and heartbreak of a sexual assault accusation, while coping with her own messy and crumbling personal life.” — Farzana Doctor, award-winning author of Seven and Six Metres of Pavement

“An extremely well-written story that engages the reader from the very beginning … Thought-provoking and powerful.” — Booked in the City blog

“Erum Shazia Hasan’s We Meant Well is a fast-paced and unputdownable debut that grapples with questions of charity and power, asking what it means to be charitable, who deserves what, and who gets the power to decide...This is a tense, challenging, and thought-provoking book that raises critical questions about the West’s involvement in the global South, and the uncomfortable conflicts that exist in humanitarian and foreign aid work.” — Shedoesthecity

WE MEANT WELL is a novel of ideas (as well as part of a developing canon of works by Canadian writers about the complicated reality of NGOs), but also a terrific, fast paced, plot driven work that’s horrifying, fascinating, and absolutely gripping at once.” — Pickle Me This blog