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Category Archive for 'Pakistan'

What an astonishing book! Completed in 1973 and packed away for almost forty years, the manuscript of The Wandering Falcon found a publisher only when the world’s attention suddenly focused on the virtually unknown tribal cultures living along the bloody border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. With great sensitivity, respect, and sympathy for his characters, seventy-nine-year-old author Jamil Ahmad has created a collection of unique, often interconnected, stories about vibrant individuals from the various tribes living in and near the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) of Pakistan. These nomads have followed the seasons and the needs of their animals and families for thousands of years, and they have no concept of national boundaries. The author, a powerful Pakistani official who lived and worked in the tribal lands from the early 1960s through the mid-1970s, believes that the people he came to know in the Swat Valley possessed a kind of honesty, openness, and lack of pretense which is absent from much of “civilized” society. He is the only person to have recorded details of their lives, making this an extremely important work.

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From the opening pages of this kaleidoscopic debut novel, Canadian author Jaspreet Singh works his magic, setting the opening scene on a train from Delhi to Srinagar, in Kashmir. A born story-teller, gifted with the ability to describe the sights, sounds, and smells of his many Indian settings, Singh also creates, at the same time, lively characters and interconnected plot lines which span two generations. Anyone who has read other novels concerned with the partition of India and the perennial conflicts between mostly Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan over the fate of Kashmir knows how complex and emotionally fraught these conflicts are, but Singh explores the conflict through the eyes of Kirpal (Kip) Singh, a chef who once worked for Lt. Gen. Ashwini Kumar, formerly chief of the Northern Command in Kashmir. With his limited focus, Kip is able to convey all the tensions and conflicts of the area without getting bogged down in the logistical technicalities. His vision is personal, and because he is an honorable person, he becomes the conscience of the novel.

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Bapsi Sidhwa’s Cracking India will expand and alter your view of India, Pakistan, and the British Raj. Using a child-narrator, a literary device over-employed and often unsuccessful, this author has found the perfect vehicle for conveying the heart-breaking story of the Partition of India in l947, without being coy and without descending into bathos. Lenny, as the child of a Parsee family, roams freely through the Sikh, Muslim, Hindu, and Parsee society of her household and neighborhood in Lahore. Because she is lame and receiving private schooling, she is at home when momentous events and important conversations occur, and because she is very young and has no ethnic biases, she observes the disintegration of her society with the puzzlement of an outsider.

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In this warm and complex study of friendship, love, and roots, Kamila Shamsie focuses on the interrelationships of a group of vividly realized, upper-class residents of Karachi, particularly Raheen and Karim and their friends, only thirteen years old as the novel opens. Raheen has always regarded Karim, her one-time crib-companion and blood-brother, as her best friend, someone who knows her so well he can complete her sentences. Their parents, too, are close friends, and as the story evolves, we learn that Raheen’s father was once engaged to marry Karim’s mother, and that Raheen’s mother once pledged to marry Karim’s father. The story behind the exchange of fiancées, though revealed as an intimate personal story, has wider implications, since it is tied, obliquely, to the ethnic unrest of 1971, when civil war broke out between East and West Pakistan, and Bangladesh came into being.

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When the monsoon rains wash a whole village of massacred babies, men, and women down the swollen river and past a small, peaceful community on India’s border with the newly created Pakistani state, the residents of the village are aghast. When whole trains of newly slaughtered Sikhs and Hindus, not a passenger still alive, start arriving in their village from Muslim Pakistan, they hastily cremate and bury the remains, then retire to the temple in shock. When their own Muslim friends from the village are forcibly evacuated to Pakistan on ten minutes’ notice, the villagers know that the fabric of their lives is changed forever. With the immediacy of an on-the-spot observer to these events of 1947 and the passion of a sensitive writer impelled to tell a story, Singh mourns the seemingly permanent loss of compassion and tolerance which accompanied the separation of the Indian subcontinent into Hindu/Sikh India and Muslim Pakistan. (To read the fill review, click on the title of this excerpt.)

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