Skip to main content

BOOK REVIEW: What If By K Yousaf

Thank you Hira M. Ahmed for the review copy.

Published in Daily Times / 6 March 2010

REVIEWED by: Afrah Jamal

It is the end of the world. Or so it appears to the disaffected, disenchanted and disenfranchised youth caught up in an endless cycle of confusion, tormented by a myriad of real and imaginary problems and terrified by the prospect of rejection. Unfortunately for them, life has plenty of curve balls in store and each generation gets its fair share. Here, we have a fairly typical high school/college/university experience presented in high definition (HD) format — that attempts to explore the dual identities carried by the new generation of young Pakistanis, a generation secure in its new found freedom but also confronting an immovable and cunningly designed wall of resistance put up by traditionalists.

The theme is simple. The setting could be anywhere. In this book, it is Islamabad seen through the eyes of one music aficionado, Asad, a newbie at his university and an outsider in his group. The story follows the lives of an unremarkable foursome, busy confronting their everyday demons with characteristic angst. There are no marks for guessing what a bunch of college going kids brood about. No, it is not world peace.

In the story, an emotionally fragile front man takes centre stage, his friends arrive on cue and assume positions as best friend, hostile competition, unattainable partner, the player, the one and so on and so forth — not necessarily in that order. Our hero will spend 325 pages pining away for the one. The one will evade capture for the remainder of the story. The readers will spend half that time trying to place the university and the other half trying to recognise the characters. With a little digging, they might even get there in this superficial world occupied by avatars, who are playing themselves very convincingly, trapped as they are in a quirky reality. This whimsical tale of love and loss is a first person narrative and has been populated with recognisable characters, familiar themes and forgettable moments. A desi version of ‘90210’ (old and new), sans fast cars, where the club scene has been replaced by dance offs courtesy of local vanity fairs (weddings), the glitz and the glamour has been toned down and the impetuous youth sport a more sedate appearance, belying their true proclivities. Nevertheless, some situations will raise conservative eyebrows. Just how accurate is this depiction of liberal minded young Pakistanis? Pretty accurate says a former student, much to the dismay of listening adults.

While parts of the book veer off to explore the inner mechanics of a student’s life — most of it comes across as a Roman clef slash diary slash exposé of a lovelorn young man — subsequently, it is rough around the edges, leaving a trail of false notes in its wake. The plot picks up from one of many patterns lying around in our lives — patterns that are recurring, patterns that will resonate with the young and the restless, patterns that are frequently recycled to have a contemporary feel. One comes across permutations of such patterns every day without committing them to paper.

The problem with some first time novelists is that they tend to ‘paint by numbers’. It may be a ploy to give that authentic look and feel. It can also be terribly restrictive, leaving a range of complex emotions unexplored when a steadily flowing stream of words struggle to reach shore. What If is the author’s first attempt, and it is brimming with the inexperience of youth. And some will think that is okay. Writers must start somewhere. What is not okay is that the book has been compared to JD Salinger’s internationally acclaimed Catcher In The Rye (1952), a book that, according to the New York Times, caused a sensation upon publication, “with its very first sentence, it introduced a brand-new voice in American writing and it quickly became a cult book, a rite of passage for the brainy and disaffected”. Given Catcher’s impact and the fact that it earned a place in TIMES 100 best English language novels, it is understandable if, somewhere, a recently deceased Salinger rolled over in his grave.

Apparently, this comparison was based on style (both books play with monologue/slang) and not substance. Putting What If next to Catcher in the Rye is sure to backfire and, instead of the right publicity, will invite a lot of unnecessary and harsh commentary. Like this one.

The writer may or may not have been subconsciously channelling Salinger. Who knows? Salinger resisted with all his might. So let us just call it what it is. A celebratory look at the heady lives of young Pakistanis, that might reach across campuses to speak to a milieu of conflicted men and women — which appears to be the intended audience. Does it have commercial appeal? Perhaps. Can it prevent more Asad clones from springing up all over campus grounds? No. And finally, should debut novels be put through the ringer before they hit the market? Most definitely, yes. For now, What If, K Yousaf’s first book can be ordered from Amazon.com and will be available in Pakistan soon. The writer can be contacted on his Facebook fan page, and a kinder review will be found at the back of the book.

Comments

  1. just doing my job K...:)

    Wish you the Best...

    ReplyDelete
  2. What if? is now available for home delivery by courier.

    http://spreadsheets.google.com/viewform?formkey=dHFSaVgxcjAweEQ3eEkzRVJ4ZHFGZXc6MA

    Just thought I'd update you.

    ReplyDelete
  3. congratulations....
    here's to a successful launch ceremony

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

BOOK REVIEW: How It Happened

Published in Daily Times / Sat 9 Feb 2013

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
Author: Shazaf Fatima Haider

Thanks to Liberty Books for the (temp) review copy

Gwendolen: I am engaged to Mr. Worthing, mamma.

Lady Bracknell: Pardon me, you are not engaged to anyone. When you do become engaged to someone, I, or your father, should his health permit him, will inform you of the fact. An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant, as the case may be. It is hardly a matter that she could be allowed to arrange for herself . . .”
-
The Importance of being Earnest (Oscar Wilde)


Characters chasing ‘happily ever after’s’ are often pulled aside by enterprising elders who try to flag all but the most traditional road to the altar. A fiendishly funny narrative pounces on the retreating figure of Cupid and explores his cultural relevance in the sport they call match-making.

The saga of the Bandian clan comes with a perpetually scandalized, formidable old lady fiercely protective…

Analysis: Survival in the Age of Information Warfare

Published in Global Village Space / Nov 2017?

Pakistani troops recently rescued a US - Canadian family that had been captured in Afghanistan in 2012 and held hostage for 5 years. International media headlines however were not all laudatory; they editorialized, and dabbled in innuendos undermining a successful mission and the men who risked their lives to bring the captives home. This is not the first time the West glossed over an ally’s achievements. And it will not be the last, since negative spin is invaluable for propping up pre-prepared narratives, advancing agendas; shaping perceptions, reinforcing stereotypes, driving ratings and controlling the message.

Because dictatorships do not have monopoly over information warfare – everyone has a dog in the race and the fake news juggernaut appears unstoppable in the age of social media and instant messaging. And while traditional methods remain relevant in the game of deception, the advent of social media has only expanded their reac…

Analysis: Pakistan’s Contributions for the Uplift of Afghan People

Published in Global Village Space / Nov 2017?

Pakistan and Afghanistan have history. And it is not all good. They have a shared border – though its legality has been contested. They also managed to forge a united front against the Soviets and achieved the impossible. It is a rare moment of solidarity and teamwork.

The final round of the Cold War fought in the badlands of Afghanistan altered the timeline since then and as the Afghan state veered off course – the impact was felt on neighboring nations. It led to an influx of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, the emergence of Taliban, the fracturing of the Afghan socio-political structure and opened a breach in the global security.

All this is in the past.

Pakistan and Afghanistan may have been brothers in arms with shared borders and traditions and historical ties, but despite their time spent in the trenches, Pakistan’s economic value as a trade portal for a landlocked region or its place as host to millions of refugees and the biggest s…

BOOK REVIEW: DIARIES OF FIELD MARSHAL MOHAMMAD AYUB KHAN 1966-1972

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
PUBLISHED IN THE POST AUG 29, 2007

Books allow people to have their say. Diaries express what they actually meant. Therefore, every prominent personality must stray from the path of political correctness and leave behind a diary. One way to regain an insight into the defining moments of our history post ‘65 War would be through the diaries of Pakistan’s first military ruler and first C-in-C, Field Marshal M. Ayub Khan, who also authored the book, ‘Friends. Not Masters’. The personal lives of public figures are always intriguing; while their contemporaries indict/acquit them on consequences of their actions, diaries give individuals a rare shot at swaying the upcoming generation of juries. Recorded during the uneasy calm before an inevitable storm brewing on the Eastern horizon and Indian front, the entries, spanning 7 years from September 1966 - October 1972, are replete with shrewdness and candor of a narrator who observed the events initially as a key player…

VIEW: WOMEN in the PAF: AN ENSEMBLE CAST

PUBLISHED in HILAL (Pakistan Armed Forces Magazine) Feb 2010

By Afrah Jamal

Progressive - Conservative - Contemporary - Professional; separately these terms could apply to any service; together they were reserved for just one - the PAF.

Pakistan Air Force has kept in touch with its roots through its glorious traditions and kept up with the changing times with innovative thinking. Oftentimes, traditions that made it stand apart have also stood in the way of, well - progress. Consequently, the service nimbly skipped past the one proposed change that was going to have a profound effect on the lives of countless young girls and would forever alter the way society perceived their womenfolk.

Before 1994, Lady Officers were a rare sight in the PAF. So rare in fact, that when male cadets donned wigs to represent the female species in annual variety shows, nobody wondered why. By 2010, women have become an indispensable part of the service. While, PAF was no stranger to a woman in uniform, a f…

Analysis: Afghanistan – An Actual Safe Haven – Part I

Published Global Affairs / Dec 2017?

The longest war is going according to plan; but whose plan exactly?
Not Washington - bogged down in a never-ending nightmare. Or Kabul - besieged and battered, barely holding its head above water. Not Pakistan, a frontline state suffering blowback and living under the weight of America’s expectations - and uncalled for accusations. The dramatic shifts in the geostrategic dynamics are not reflected in Washington’s stance towards Islamabad nor are they inclined towards the multiplayer great game unfolding in the backdrop with Russians, Iranians, Taliban, Indians, Chinese, ISIS and its Coalition forces.

Mission Rebuild Afghanistan

In the backdrop are nations used as pawns to keep Cold War allies or emergent threats in check. On the side are non-state actors wielded as weapons to thwart ambitions and counter bigger threats like ISIS. And at the centre is a strategy that offers a patchwork quilt of something old, something new, something borrowed to s…

BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan: Beyond The ‘Crisis State’ / Author: Maleeha Lodhi

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Published under the title: 17 Reasons to Hope

“History will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, history will have its revenge and retribution”— from the movie, ‘Good Night, & Good Luck’

A region known for most “terrorist sightings”, a place feared for harbouring medieval mindsets next to progressive thinkers and a nation shunned for having an affinity for nuclear toys. By turns a cautionary tale, an indispensable ally and an international pariah, Pakistan does not fit into any mould — for long. But its name crops up whenever things go awry.

Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’ is a compilation of articles put together by Maleeha Lodhi that countermands the grim prognosis. When Ms Lodhi, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and UK, acknowledges that “resilience has been part of Pakistan’s story from its inception, obscured by the single issue lens…