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BOOK REVIEW: Beautiful From this Angle

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal
Author: Maha Khan Phillips
Published in Daily Times / Saturday, December 25, 2010 /
Under the Title: Couture served with a side of scandal

Attend a decadent party in the city, document a rural tragedy and dupe a bunch of “angrez” — it is all in a day’s work for the characters created by Maha Khan Phillips. Her debut novel features Pakistan dressed up in couture and served with a side of scandal. This is fiction based on (rarely acknowledged) facts that alternates between rural and urban settings — merrily creating waves in one and unabashedly finding dirt in the other. Using such a varied palette enables her to draw on a wide range of complex themes that are useful in expanding the stage, which looks like a catwalk in the beginning.

The writer takes present day Pakistan — a hub of violence and an increasingly misunderstood region — and draws a composite that will jolt, repel, confound and overwhelm. She has embedd…

VIEW: Houbara Bustards: dead birds walking? — Afrah Jamal

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, December 11, 2010
Published in SHE Magazine Jan 2011

Experts disagree over the exact date when the houbara bustard might join the ranks of the spectacled cormorant, caspian tiger and woolly rhinoceros — but most agree that it is probably headed that way. The houbara has been projected as an aphrodisiac — endangered, protected, doomed — in need of conservation and on the fast track towards extinction. Because, come winter, when Pakistan gets ready to host one class of migratory birds, it also prepares to welcome several dignitaries from neighbouring Arab countries. The houbara comes for the climate; the Arabs come for the houbara. Armed with permits and falcons, visiting Arabs proceed to hunt in designated areas and, if tabloids are to be believed, their sole interest in the sport lies in what the poor bird’s meat contains and not the hunt itself. The tabloids would be surprised to learn that while the royal hunters’ main motivation is the thrill of…

BOOK REVIEW: How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal / Author: Michael Gates Gill
Published in Daily Times / Saturday, November 27, 2010

Starbucks had more than coffee on the menu the day Michael walked in. A company that claims its mission is to “inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time”, was about to offer him a choice of lifelines along with their standard latte. And the man who once hobnobbed with poets, writers and political bigwigs and jet-setted around the globe, happily ensconced in his armour of wealth and entitlement, was going to accept both.

It is not every day that a former creative director of J Walter Thompson (JWT) who has a Yale education and leads a charmed life steps down to take the place of a Starbucks barista only to find that it was actually a step up in life. As ludicrous as this sounds, How Starbucks Saved My Life insists on turning the classic rags to riches story on its head.

Michael is someone born with a silver spoon in his mouth (he i…

BOOK REVIEW: Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA's SpyTechs, from Communism to Al-Qaeda

Wallace, Robert (Author) and Melton, H. Keith (Author)
with Schlesinger, Henry R. (Author)
Foreword by George J. Tenet Former Director CIA

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
Published in Daily Times / 06 Nov 2010, under the title: I Spy With My Little Eye

Some in the intelligence business have been dismayed to find that they have been using gadgets relegated to spy museums long ago. As agencies operating under the espionage banner usher in a new era of covert warfare, asking the public to admire their enterprising nature may not be wise. Getting the agencies to set aside their secrecy clause long enough to admit to their past may not be possible.

The ‘top gun of OTS’ CIA’s Office of Technical Service have been engaged in a battle of wits for half a century and their stories are worthy of attention. An insider’s look at the world of espionage especially OTS or ‘America’s Q’ and its fearsome capabilities besides being a cause for concern for rival agencies is a chance to observe ‘history in the…

BOOK REVIEW: The Cricketer, The Celebrity, the Politician Imran Khan, The Biography / Author: Christopher Sandford

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
Published in Daily Times / Saturday, October 23, 2010

Someone recalls seeing the ‘legend’ from a distance once at a duck shoot. An Imran Khan sighting generally sent mortal men, women, children and tabloids into frenzy.

Not here.

As this chap sheepishly admitted, “a fighter pilot’s ego will rival that of a highly sought after cricketing legend.

And so Imran remained seated in the car seemingly oblivious to the trio while they stayed rooted to the spot pretending to gawk at the ducks.

No duck has stolen Khan’s thunder before or since.

Imran Khan’s popularity can be gauged by a passage that claims that dignitaries from other Commonwealth countries reportedly asked to see two things, one of which was our great Khan and the other was the Khyber Pass.

Over time, Imran Khan would go through several transformations, moving effortlessly between international phenomena, ‘dream catcher’, ‘good Samaritan’ and ‘King of hearts

BOOK REVIEW: Who Assassinated Benazir Bhutto / Author: Shakeel Anjum

Thank you Dost Publication for the review copy
First Published in Daily Times / 09 Oct 2010

Reviewed by - Afrah Jamal

It is not every day one finds the author of a book about murder himself implicated in a triple homicide. In our part of the world, however, it could simply mean that the ‘suspect’ was too snoopy for his/her own good or simply stepped on some VIP’s toes. Fortunately, it was the latter case here (he fell out with the Islamabad police) and an exonerated Shakeel Anjum shakes off the stigma of a murderer and dons the garb of a detective. He is, after all, a crime reporter who has been associated with a local English daily for a long time and has clocked 32 years in the arena. This provides him with the requisite credentials to dive into the deep end but it may not necessarily give him groundbreaking investigative journalistic powers to ferret out the truth about Benazir’s assassination. Yet, this is exactly what the author claims to have done.

The purpose of the book is ost…

BOOK REVIEW: Mehdi Hasan: The Man & His Music/ Compiled & Edited by Asif Noorani

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, October 02, 2010 / under the title: National Treasure

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

(Thanks to Asif Noorani Sahib for the words of encouragement & Liberty Books for the signed copy)

13 June 2012: Rest in Peace Mehdi Hasan (1927-2012)

A quick perusal of Mehdi Hasan’s life will reveal that he was anointed the ‘Emperor of Ghazals’ and ensured that the earliest foundations of Pakistani music would also be the strongest, that his voice easily broke through the cultural barrier and that he was a mechanic before he was a legend. Anyone desirous of taking a closer look at the musical maestro who dominated radio, television and film and ruled the local airwaves for several decades would have been disappointed.

One man, however, will lament the fact that “no book, good, bad or indifferent, on the greatest exponent of ghazal gayeki (singing) of the late 20th century is available in Pakistan or elsewhere”, before setti…

VIEW: Just Say No…. to IDP’s? - MQM's IIIrd Strike (June 2009)

Unpublished piece

A strike call to protest the IDP’s arrival in Sindh, issued by virtual unknowns – JSQM, had been set for 25 May 2009. MQM’s initial support and subsequent withdrawal late Sunday night (24 May 2009) came too late for the strike to be called off – but in time for them not to ‘strike out’ completely. In baseball terms, however, this would be MQM’s third strike. First a deposed judge (barred for bringing in Marching lawyers); recently a fiery Cricketer turned politician (barred for bringing a peace rally) and now displaced people (barred for unwittingly bringing excess baggage of the Taliban).

As compassion and aid pours forth from all over the world for victims of Pakistan’s biggest humanitarian disaster, this very public display of hostility is bewildering. MQM reps were hauled in by talk show hosts to explain. Glib talking politicians nimbly danced around, careful not to admit wrongdoing, loathe to take responsibility, yet, eager to defend their flimsy pretext for le…

BOOK REVIEW: Estranged Neighbours: India - Pakistan (1947-2010) By General K M Arif

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Thanks to Dost Publications for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / 25 Sep 2010 under the title: Dreaming of an elusive peace

General Arif admits that he is a “soldier by profession and peacemaker by choice”. The peacemaking side hastens to the battlefield to clear the air and maybe mend some fences while the soldier in him is ready to launch a verbal offensive. He does intend to bury the hatchet but not before evaluating the number of times this hatchet has been wielded in the past by the powerful nation of India against a flailing state of Pakistan. There is a third side — that of the pragmatist who intends to bring Pakistan back in alignment with its stated polices.

South Asia is frequently in crisis mode and Estranged Neighbours studies the inherited problems, shared dilemmas, post partition woes and regional complexities faced by both nations. General Arif witnessed the partition, was President Ziaul Haq’s chief of staff and spent nearly 40 years in t…

BOOK REVIEW: Dead until Dark /Author: Charlaine Harris

First Published in Daily Times - Saturday, September 18, 2010

Published under the title: Playing for high stakes

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

All the books in the Southern Vampire Mystery series have the word ‘dead’ in the title, a female lead with moxie as the protagonist, a mystery at the core and the un-dead community as its star attractions. The media is saturated with vampires these days but instead of dying from overexposure, this proves that they are stronger than ever.

Charlaine Harris adds another dimension to an old tale, tweaking the mythology to imagine a world where vampires have risen again. This time they have a stake in society instead of the other way around and no longer need to skulk around in the shadows or hunt humans for that matter. Freshly recognised, at least in the US, out of the coffin, into the open, teetotaller vamps owe their new found freedom to the Japanese whose alternative nourishment plan involves synthetic drinks.

These un-dead run true to type with their…

BOOK REVIEW: Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief / By Rick Riordan

First Published inDaily Times / Saturday, September 04, 2010

Reposted atLiberty Books Blog

Published under the title: Of gods and men
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

Olympian gods and goddesses are not the best role models; their moral compass is frequently out of order and no one dares suggest they get it fixed. The (stormy) age of the gods was great while it lasted but it is over. Rick Riordan reawakens the gods, gives them another shot at (eternal) life with a brand new home, creating a new legion of heroes and heroines in the process. He then combines all these elements to launch his fantasy series making mythology the centrepiece and family values the essential pillars of his newly redesigned universe.

How do these extinct entities fare in a (literary) world already overrun with vampires, witches, werewolves and wizards? Set in the present day, Riordan’s young adult fantasy novel tries to survive the onslaught of other supernatural beings by giving neglected Greek gods a clever makeover. T…

BOOK REVIEW: Committed: A Sceptic Makes Peace with Marriage / Author: Elizabeth Gilbert

Committed picks up where the international bestseller Eat, Pray, Love left off. Elizabeth Gilbert is still travelling but not solo — on a quest but not for the same reasons. The last time she went into exile to Italy, India and Indonesia, it was self-imposed and involved food and spiritual enlightenment. The latest one to Southeast Asia, however, has been brought on by circumstances beyond her control and is about facing her deepest fear head on.

The title of this memoir may be Committed but Elizabeth has not gotten over her dread of matrimony. She has been committed to the institution of marriage before and has no interest in going back. Thus far she has successfully evaded capture and is determined to do anything — anything at all to avoid “going through that apocalypse”. Details of that particular ‘apocalypse’ can be found in the pages of her previous book — Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything across Italy, India and Indonesia, recently turned into a major motion pi…

BOOK REVIEW: EAT PRAY LOVE: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

Author: Elizabeth Gilbert /Reviewed for Liberty Books Blog by: Afrah Jamal

Link to Liberty books Blog: EAT PRAY LOVE: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia



A magazine assignment took a 30 something woman from NY to Bali where a ninth generation medicine man prophesied her return. She keeps her appointment because he said she would but also makes fresh plans; putting her old life on hold, signing up for an extreme religious experience in India and enrolling in language courses in Italy – because she realized she should.

‘Exhausted by the cumulative consequences of a lifetime of hasty choices and chaotic passions’, Elizabeth Gilbert will leave the ruins of her former life (nasty break-up & all) and head out into the wilderness for some very unusual R&R. Her spirits demand an instant pick me up and a dramatic makeover.

This voyage of self discovery requires that she take a year off, trading in the comforts of home for the comforts of Europe and the d…

BOOK REVIEW: THE POWER BY RHONDA BYRNE Reviewed for Liberty Books Blog

Review posted here : The Power

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal


Like Po the Kung Fu master wannabe discovered in ‘Kung Fu Panda’ – there is no secret ingredient, so shall the readers. The power that has created such frenzy lies in one word.

Rhonda Byrne believes everyone has power over their circumstances, and yet their lives careen out of control. Throughout history, anyone with a good life has, knowingly or unknowingly, used the ‘Power’. The rest are oblivious to its life changing potential and mope around sadly.

The premise here is simply – if you want something – it is yours for the taking; health, wealth, happiness, career, successful relationships – all yours.

Finding this power does not require any major suspension of disbelief. Ancient records attest to its existence. It manifests itself in the form of inexplicable moments like a charmed life, that incredible comeback, a miraculous recovery, an unexpected stroke of good fortune. Those who have seen it in action may know it by different…

BOOK REVIEW: Bridging Partition: People’s Initiatives for Peace Between India and Pakistan

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Book Edited by Smitu Kothari and Zia Mian with Kamla Bhasin, A H Nayyar and Mohammad Tahseen

Published in Daily Times / Aug 21, 2010

They have been locked in a near permanent state of confrontation for six decades, stopping only to make feeble overtures of peace to pacify onlookers. These 63-year-olds have great reserves of animosity left over from 1947. They renew their peace pledges often but test each other’s patience daily. And they get flustered easily, which makes them the two most predictable nations in the neighbourhood. When they are not exchanging words, they are exchanging fire. If nothing else, cyber armies from both sides have been seen invading ‘enemy’ websites. With their history of violence and a tendency to overreact, many wonder if Pakistan and India can ever break the pattern and maybe, just maybe, consider the merits of peace instead of dreaming about the spoils of war.

Both nations have a rich culture, an admirable stock…

BOOK REVIEW: The Last Sunset — The Rise & Fall of the Lahore Durbar Author: Amarinder Singh

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times under the heading: Lahore Durbar in free fall

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

After the Mughals exited, but before the British arrived, the Lahore Durbar was presided over by Maharaja Ranjit Singh Bahadur, affectionately known as the ‘Lion of Lahore’, who makes a brief appearance in Amarinder Singh’s narrative, but leaves a lasting impression on his history.

Ranjit Singh, who has been described in the book as a great man and an outstanding military commander, was a mass of contradictions. For instance, he was against the death penalty but not averse to robbing widows, believed treaties were meant to be broken but treated the vanquished with kindness, and thought nothing of inviting guests only to divest them of their most prized possession — like the Kohinoor diamond. He may have spent the better part of the day leading military campaigns, yet he did not always harbour territorial designs and is said to have waged a war on hi…

BOOK REVIEW: Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs

Published in Daily Times / Aug 07, 2010

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
Author: Muhammad Yunus with Karl Weber

In the early 1970s when an academician from a third world country came across the victims of a moneylender, he did what good Samaritans usually do in such circumstances: he took charge, paid off their small loan, securing a temporary release. Then the academician did something many probably would not have done. He decided to put the affected community members (residing in rural Bangladesh) in charge and sought a permanent end to their financial woes. Since the only government-sanctioned weapon needed to combat this menace (banks) flatly refused to help (and the good Samaritan was neither a millionaire nor a magician), he decided to forge one on his own.

That a paltry sum of $ 27 could make such a difference in 42 lives caught in the moneylenders’ net led to the development of an intriguing concept, one that advocated that extending a financial lifeline to those deemed to be non-creditw…