This post is sooooo overdue, especially as I had intended to write updates every two months in my last reading update. Oops! Unfortunately, I fell ill and once I felt well enough to begin catching up with everything – BAM – I fell ill again.
(Alhamdullilah) I recovered in time for Ramadan so now I can finally share what I read when I wasn’t puking my lungs or guts out…
1. The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad
I picked this up because 1. I wanted a short, quick read and 2. I needed some inspiration for writing short stories and one of the reviews said it was just that – a collection of short stories.
Eventually I discovered that while these were short stories, they were joined loosely to form a novel; for me, the book falls into neither category and has a very disjointed structure which makes it difficult to stay interested, especially in the latter chapters.
I can understand why it would be difficult for some readers to visualise the lives of the characters – they are tribes of travellers in a pre-Taliban world, their lives (dependant on the seasons) are spent migrating between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. The stories and characters were easy for me to imagine though as I was reminded me of a documentary I once watched about the Wakhan corridor. I loved the portrayal of tribal life and the stubborn simplicity of their society; I think the writer should have made the central character Tor Baz (wandering falcon) more prominent.
2. Kartography by Kamila Shamsie
I. Love. This. Book.
There’s so much I can say about this book (but I won’t because I don’t want to spoil it). Concerned with cartography and the painful formation of Pakistan, the novel still manages to make you laugh until your jaw hurts – clever, witty, eye-opening, full of references to both Eastern and Western art and literature, this book is a must-read for every Pakistani and Bangladeshi. Kartography compels you to re-think everything you (think you) know about the partition.
3. Tender Hooks by Moni Mohsin
Tender Hooks is a satirical novel set in an upper-class Lahore where terrorist attacks, suicide bombers, and curfews are quickly becoming the norm. It is written from the perspective of a materialistic female narrator who is entrusted to find a suitable wife for her cousin.
Mohsin’s use of malapropisms add a comic edge to the narrator’s hypocrisy and naivety, and once I got past the irritating overuse of ‘yaar’ and ‘haan’, I was laughing at every page. This book was such an enjoyable read and a great example of experimentation from a bilingual writer; you can read an extract here.
4. The Arabian Nights by Husain Haddawy
I chose this particular translation by Haddawy as it aims to replicate the original tales as closely as possible without deviation, unlike some other versions. There’s a certain magic and timelessness with this collection of stories which is probably why it is a classic.
I couldn’t help but feel a sense of deja-vu, like I had heard some of the stories already but that didn’t make it any less interesting. The only thing I was disappointed with was the ‘sameness’ of some of the stories; I wished there was some variety in the depiction of other-worldly species. The jinn are always evil, all they do is kill men or kidnap virginal brides. Likewise, the women are either all promiscuous or witches that cast spells on others. But maybe I am to blame for this impression as I read the book in one intense go and I don’t think that’s how the stories are meant to be read, after all even Shehrezaad splits them up over a thousand and one nights.
I highly recommended this book: there’s something very refreshing and inspirational about reading a book that reflects your heritage or culture and imitates the art of oral storytelling.