I was interested in reading The Shadow of the Crescent Moon even before it was made the Long List for the Bailey’s Prize simply because it is by Fatima Bhutto. The Bhutto family is to Pakistan what the Kennedy family is to the United States; a prime political family of privilege scarred by tragedy. Continue reading
Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie
I recently read and reviewed A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie. As I mentioned then, Shamsie is one of my favorite South Asian writers, so when Ali at HeavenAli said Burnt Shadows was even better, I considered it a challenge. It had long been on my TBR list and decided now was the time to dive in. Continue reading
A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie
Kamila Shamsie is one of my favorite South Asian writers and she’s going to be at the Edinburgh Book Festival this year, so I dove at the chance to review A God in Every Stone, her latest book. It is a sprawling story that spans Turkey, World War One, and colonial Peshawar. It is a hugely ambitious novel, but it just might be a little too big. Continue reading
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid
I don’t know why it has taken me so long to get to this book. I’ve been a fan of Mohsin Hamid since his debut novel, Moth Smoke. It was fresh and edgy and unlike anything else I had read coming out of South Asia. In his second novel, The Reluctant Fundementalist, which was also made into a film, he confronted some difficult issues regarding religion in America in the post 9/11 years. Hamid has always written distinctive novels and How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is no different. Continue reading
The Blind Man’s Garden by Nadeem Aslam
I hate that I have to write this, but I did not love The Blind Man’s Garden. It hurts me to say that because for years I have thought that Nadeem Aslam is one of South Asian literature’s brightest stars. I loved his Maps for Lost Lovers. The imagery in The Wasted Vigil was breath taking, but The Blind Man’s Garden kind of left me cold.
It recounts to the story of two brothers who set off to fight in Afghanistan in the months following 9/11, and the extended family they leave behind in Pakistan. Although I did not enjoy the novel, I do think that it is perhaps one of the most important novels to document the conflicting tensions that existed in post 9/11 Pakistan and Afghanistan. Aslam deftly shows that in that world the conflicts were all in shades of grey, not black and white as they were often portrayed in western media. He also shows that the decision to fight on any of the sides in this conflict may not have so much to with right and wrong, but with survival, personal revenge, pride and dignity.
As with The Wasted Vigil, Aslam’s imagery is haunting. In The Blind Man’s Garden there is the recurring image of a fakir draped in chains who carries the wishes, hopes and dreams of devotees in each link of the chain that weighs down his body. The fakir is eventually killed and his chains are used to secure an American prisoner. Simplistic though this description seems, the image is suffused with meaning that accrues throughout the narrative.
So why did I not like this novel? As I write this, it is difficult to say, but I certainly found reading it a bit of a slog. It may come down to the fact that I don’t really enjoy war novels. There were sections of the story that I enjoyed immensely, but they tended to be the secondary stories. It may also be that the narrative was weighed down by language. It is not the most accessible of books to read. I started reading The Blind Man’s Garden after reading Janet Evanovich, which made reading Aslam’s prose feel a little like wading through a swamp, a beautiful swamp, but still a swamp.
Who would like this book? This book is for someone who is looking for a highly nuanced story about the was in Afghanistan and who is not afraid of a very literary read. In some ways it reminded me of The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid. Both novels show the complexities of being Muslim in the modern world and the sometimes unlikely factors that contribute to making one more or less conservative in their religious views.