Skip to main content

BOOK REVIEW: The Good Muslim

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, September 17, 2011

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
Author: Tahmima Anam

They call it a debacle for a reason.

Once the victory lap is over — the drumbeats of war lie silenced, the voices of protest are stifled — new questions arise. Can a landscape of fear be used to stage a new production of hope?

The sequel to A Golden Age is set in the immediate aftermath of the 1971 Indo-Pak war. The map of the subcontinent has been hastily rearranged — a new country has staked its claim on the spot where once stood East Pakistan.

Thirteen years on there are no thanksgiving celebrations.

Tahmima Anam takes a brooding look at the horrors of war and the price of peace through the eyes of Maya and Sohail — siblings who played their part in carving out a fresh national identity. One is a crusading doctor newly returned home and the other, a former warrior, has replaced arms with the Book. The story is centred on a fraught homecoming and a fractured relationship.

It is the early 80s and they have been estranged for several years. While Sohail is slowly being consumed in a religious fire, Maya’s emotional journey takes a circuitous route through purgatory; one second she struggles with her faith trying to circumvent the new barriers that surround her home, next she embarks on a rescue mission parting the veil between liberal and fundamentalist forces. Tahmima furnishes the scene with rich characters to offset the bleak moment of creation and its tragic consequences.

The book jumps back and forth between different time frames to explore the murky aspects of religion, politics, and morality, drawing energy from the remnants of a 40-year-old secessionist movement that left deep imprints on the land. Survival, redemption, desperation, injustice are the centrepieces while unsettling images of the carnage hover in the background. The primary focus of this cultural tour is not on what they won but what they lost.

Bringing that era back to life posits many challenges. History will be recalled and depending on which side is being represented, it will be used to vindicate or incriminate the participants. The post-war period continues to suffer from the aftershocks — it harbours a deep resentment for a retreating army that cannot be assuaged. It bristles at its own inadequacies. It trembles for the fallen women. The sorrowful murmurs of its shameful past are amplified while places that continue to reverberate with their echoes are revisited.

The ending feels a little contrived but Tahmima skilfully keeps readers occupied with questions: what turned Sohail away from the world; is the nation ready to acknowledge their unwanted legacy of war; how much can be salvaged from the fiery cauldron of hate?

These sombre memories strike a chord because of the presence of characters carried away on dangerous tides of religion at a time when madrassas were not on the radar and fundamentalism had not attained a hold over the region. The ideological strife between Sohail and Maya reflects a deeper more pervasive problem that holds resonance in these troubled times. The radical Islam depicted here however has yet to develop the terrifying capabilities that could engulf the globe. In the early days, only those who stand too close get burned. The sole casualty of Sohail’s obsession will be his own kin.

'The Good Muslim' takes a winding road lined with shell-shocked freedom fighters who crusade against inner demons and a nation’s desperate struggle to reclaim lost souls — both converge in a countryside continually blighted by allusions to war. Maya labels her newly acquired land as a fast acting country — “quick to anger, quick to self-destruct”. There is talk of ‘prisoners of war’, about whom she thinks were “released, put back into their uniforms and sent home to Pakistan adding how no sorrys were exchanged. Anointed by the hand of forgiveness, they would grow old without shame”.

Her critical self-examination captures the misery at home but carefully sidesteps the troubling role its own played in the war crimes. Such elisions upset the balance. The book, which is the second part of a trilogy, is both an ode to the living left to tend the scorched earth and a wake for the dead.

Harper; Pp 304; Rs 995


Popular posts from this blog

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…

FILM REVIEW: West Bank Story a live-action short film (2007)

Published in The POST May 17, 2007

Directed by:Ari Sandel
Written by: Kim Ray and Ari Sandel
Duration: 21 Minutes
(An official selection of the 2005 Sundance Film Festival)

The Middle East is better known for staging violent uprisings, certainly not for inspiring comedic masterpieces.

Since 1967, the West bank has spawned a surge in Arab hostility, frequent visits to the Middle East by Condoleezza Rice and lately, a small little inspirational musical comedy about competing falafel stands, directed, co-written and produced by Ari Sandel (part Israeli, part American Californian native). Since there is no easy way to represent both sides fairly, the very notion of West Bank Story is greeted with a justifiable mix of scepticism, wariness and resentment at first. No doubt, it is a precarious balancing act that mandates such a film to be witty without being offensive, show compassion without discrimination and entertain without losing substance. So does West Bank Story deliver?

West Bank Story

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: 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…

OP-ED: Fashion Week – More Than A Pretty Footnote

First Published in Economic Affairs June 2013 Issue

‘Artists are the gatekeeper of truth. We are civilizations radical voice’. Paul Robeson

There was a conference on counter-terrorism underway in Hyderabad as fashion week was winding down in Lahore. One of the presenters, a Dutch with a Phd and a thesis on the effects of fear on social behavior had indicated resilience as part of the counter-terrorism strategy. ‘We had a fashion show, does that count?’ I later asked Dr. Mark Dechesne who was in town recently. If he was startled, he did not show it.

Two things have been trending on twitter since April 2013. Fashion week finds itself in the same time slot as politics and as politicians perfect their strut on the political ramp, the fashionistas have taken to the red carpet and designer-wear floods the catwalk. Though fear overshadows both events, people refuse to let the claustrophobic environment dictate their social calendar.

The famed fashion week which started from Karachi and co…

OP-ED: Stargazing at the Awards

Published in Daily Times / 11 Apr 2014

So which one of them is Pakistani?
Some of us were having a hard time putting a name to the music.
All of them,’ said the person sitting next to us, a little reproachfully.
The musical performances? oh that, none of them, he said cheerfully.
He did not seem shocked.

We had gathered that day to witness the 2nd Servis HUM Awards, celebrate the showbiz industry with its requisite fashion parades and indulge in some star gazing at the EXPO Centre, Karachi.

The show had been designed to honour the best of Pakistani music, fashion, film, and of course television. Guests glided across the hall in awe of the décor (flawless) and set pieces (stunning) while keeping an eagle eye on the red carpet for a Fawad Khan or Hamza Ali Abbasi sighting (rare).

Timely adverts running on OSN ensured that a regional audience awaited the telecast with bated breath along-side the rest of HUM fans. The ceremony was not LIVE but Twitter would be abuzz with activity e…

STYLE: A ‘Haute’ Ticket Item

Published in Daily Times Pakistan (Entertainment Section) / 26 Oct 2013

Your talent will get you far, but your passion will get you further” – Tabassaum

Bath island - turns out, not really an island; it is a place where one can find, among other things Tabassum Mughal’s outlet and her shiny new salon. Her signature piece was featured in Bridal Couture 2013 (BCW) earlier this year. Her collection was later seen on London’s runway. And a bewitched crowd now circles her new line for Eid, drawn by a certainty that behind the closed doors lay the proverbial ‘one’.

They are not wrong. As she unveils a new vision of silk & satin to the world, there will be a constant embedded in that impeccable fashion statement. She has achieved a wonderful hybrid harvested from the rich heritage and decadent flavors that define our poorly misunderstood region.

The person in-charge of these creative coups can be seen flitting in and out of the situation room – otherwise known as the exhibit…