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
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 embedded an unvarnished account of Karachi’s nightlife complete with the underground party scene and all that it entails, within a narrative that lures the curiosity seekers but stirs things around to force more urgent issues to the fore. She will also tiptoe past the political underbelly and, at the same time, hit all the notes in vogue — from the mullah and military to fundamentalism and feudalism. Somewhere in this mix are the privileged, happily settled on an oasis of calm, and the poor, living off their scraps.
Since Maha provides access to an exclusive club after taking away the filters generally used whenever Pakistan is mentioned, the book is a bold and irreverent trek through (traditionally) forbidden territory that, at times, can be uncomfortable to watch. The book does not bother with niceties and maintains a ceaseless stream of mordant wit to take down whatever or whoever gets in the way. A lot of innocent (and some not so innocent) bystanders get in the line of fire; socialites who hide Marie biscuits in Marks and Spencer tins to serve to “folks who don’t know the difference”, journalists dressed for combat who lap up horror stories about this region and have an exaggerated sense of danger and, finally, the West’s rallying cry for “find that Osama” and the locals who join in the chorus hoping to make a buck.
This is a small book that moves at a frantic pace and mines the countryside for every bit of local colour that can challenge stereotypes and yet still convey that keen sense of danger that has become a part of everyday life. Sensitive readers would be appalled by the language — profanity, like drugs and alcohol, flows freely, and some of these characters will happily check little things like morals and integrity at the door. This will give those Karachiites who go through life wearing blinders or blindfolds (or both) a severe culture shock. The jaded, however, might appreciate the candour.
For Maha Khan Phillips, completing the novel was a course requirement from City University London. Since then she has penned a children’s novel The Mystery of the Aagnee Ruby. Beautiful From This Angle may not speak to everyone but it knows how to make an entrance.
Penguin; Pp 240; Rs 495
2 Pix from Liberty Books/Sarah Haris's Fb Page