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 A desi version of ‘90210’ (old and new), sans fast cars, where the club scene has been replaced by dance offs courtesy of local vanity fairs (weddings), the glitz and the glamour has been toned down and the impetuous youth sport a more sedate appearance,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

The Book of Davis - Reading between the lines

Published by Global Affairs / Aug 2017

Raymond Davis is a champ. A team player, who puts the needs of his comrades in arms before himself. He is savvy. He is a man of integrity - a survivor - a trooper. Ray, the epitome of courage runs headlong towards danger and into a minefield - literally. He is all this and more. This is his story after all.

6 years ago, he was a trained Special Forces SF, undercover ‘contractor’, forced to navigate the cramped alleyways of Lahore on a routine mission – the details of which remain a mystery. His book ‘The Contractor: How I Landed in a Pakistani Prison and Ignited a Diplomatic Crisis’ with Storms Reback, revisits the scene of the crime to solidify his innocence and along the way take a few potshots at random players who helped secure his release. It’s a hair-raising ride.

His style is conversational, his demeanor - amiable. The case is still fresh in people’s minds and his intent to set the record straight ignites yet another round of controversy…

OPED: Keeping the Truth & Reconciliation Train on Track in Pakistan & Bangladesh

Published by Global Affairs / June 2017

It is no secret that Pakistan’s Eastern Wing broke away or that India helped carve Bangladesh in 1971. There were weaknesses to be exploited and deep seated resentments that left sizeable fissures in between Pakistan’s East and West wing. The Indian PM Modi can now tip his hat to 1,661 Indian soldiers allied with an armed resistance – the dreaded Mukti Bahini without fear of reprisal. Of late, there have been whispers about a KGB element in the mix. But the past is over and done with. Or is it?

There was madness and mayhem and civil unrest. Both sides suffered. The figure of three million offered by Bangladesh however has been widely disputed. While there has been a lot of water under the bridge since 1971- there has not been any serious attempt at breaching the divide. But most Pakistanis have not whitewashed their history and acknowledge their errors in judgment and lack of political foresight that led to the debacle.

‘The wall between Bangl…

BOOK REVIEW: Hira Mandi / Author: Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson

Published in Daily Times Saturday, February 11, 2012

Reproduced on Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson's Website

Translated from French by Priyanka Jhijaria

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

A programme about Hira Mandi did the internet rounds a couple of years ago. It claimed, among other things, that the sons of the ‘dancers’ reportedly end up as lawyers, doctors, artists — a few join politics and some even reach the military. These outrageous statistics may be one of the reasons the documentary was banned from the mainstream media. That and its primary premise — the plight of the fallen women — would prompt the conservatives to howl with dismay before scurrying off to bury any evidence in the backyard along with other bodies.


Claudine Le Tourneur d’Ison embeds such wrenching moments in a bold narrative where its doomed protagonist can hail the brave new world and its genteel patrons from an extraordinary vantage point. The expedition to the underworld with the unfortunate progeny and the hapless…

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…

OPED: Radd-ul-Fassad – An Urgent Revision in the Wake of Mashal Khan's Lynching

Published Global Affairs / June 2017

Written in the immediate aftermath of Mashal Khan's lynching

On December 2014, 148 people, mostly school kids were murdered by terrorists in the APS (Army Public School) school massacre. In April 2017, a university student was lynched in Mardan. One tragedy marked a turning point. Another opens a Pandora’s Box.

APS happened while Operation Zarb-e-Azb was underway. It shook the nation to its very core; and pushed the armed forces to expand the scope of its offensives. Military courts were set up in the aftermath. A death row inmate (Qadri), once lauded by clergy and lawyers for killing a Governor, was finally executed along with scores of militants.

And soon another operation would come into effect after shrines, rallies and public places were targeted in a resurgence of terror in 2017. If the first was driven by vengeance, the second came from desperation. Pakistan’s survival was at stake – unless it tackled the darkness head on. But the dark…

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…

BOOK REVIEW: Operation Geronimo – the Betrayal and Execution of Osama Bin Laden and its Aftermath

Published in Daily Times (Pakistan) / 27 April 2013
Author: Shaukat Qadir
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal



Book Cover Courtesy: Link

The insider account by a former SEAL later used to prop up the raid sequence of ‘Zero Dark Thirty fills in the dramatic details but a change in vantage point zooms in on the Pakistani equation. In less than a 100 pages, the author proceeds to tie up loose ends leftover from the reams of official spin surrounding the events of May 1 2011.

He is a retired infantry Brigadier from Pakistan Army who uses his unprecedented access to the corridors of military power to launch an independent inquiry into the incident. His research takes in isolated facts, hidden motives and shadowy agendas to create an alternate timeline of events. They correspond with the main outlines of the sanctioned version but differ in the approach. The resultant document builds an appealing profile that demands a second look at the so called ‘mansion’ in Abbottabad and the dead man walking within…