Fatima Bhutto’s debut novel is set in the scarred outer regions of Pakistan, one of those territories that the state looks down on and rules with ‘ox-blood heeled’ violence. Mir Ali is located in North Waziristan and should rightfully have been a place out of a dream with clear blue skies, mountain peaks and rushing streams where the children go to fish with their families in summer. Instead, it is a place where young men and, sometimes, older ones disappear with no explanations given, where families pack their bags and prepare to vanish once their sons are gone. However, Fatima Bhutto chooses to introduce the troubled one-horse town not through straight description, but through three hours in the life of three brothers: Aman Erum, recently returned from studies in the US, Sikandar the doctor, and Hayat. The day happens to be Id and because Mir Ali is the place that it is, there are snipers on the rooftops looking down on the town as the bazaars slowly open.
The three brothers will be praying in three different mosques, as organised by the youngest Hayat, which sounds ominous, and the reader begins to anticipate a bomb blast or a suicide attack. However, the anticipation is delayed. Fatima takes us back in time to give a background to the Id day and its acquired air of ominousness. The narrative follows the three brothers in three different directions, which turns out to be a journey back and forth in time, following the divergent routes that their lives took.
Aman Erum, the eldest, is determined to leave town for a place where the crescent does not overshadow his life. So he applies for a student visa to America and goes in a newly tailored polyester suit to answers questions pertaining to 9/11 that he never dreamt he would have to consider. In leaving Mir Ali, he leaves behind Samarra, a girl defined in terms of a long, untidy plait and a beauty mark that frames her eye, a girl who he has loved from the carefree days full of lazy angling.
Sikandar is a doctor with a manic wife who attends funerals and tries to lay out the dead and is herself acutely depressed. There is mention of a son, a child with flashing shoes, a timid boy—it does not take too much guessing to realise that the child is probably dead, and through some kind of political violence. Mina, the wife, is never described; again, Fatima keeps her character outlining minimalistic—we see her in terms of kohl lines drawn with a matchstick—but her rage and grief culminate in a kind of tsunami that embarrasses even the Taliban into shame.
As for Hayat, he becomes a freedom fighter who partners Samarra. The two of them have the plan to end all plans and bring military rule in Mir Ali crashing down.
Being the daughter of Shahnawaz Bhutto, Fatima Bhutto is well qualified to write a book like this one. She understands the consequences of military rule and the way border people are marginalised till they become rebels.
However, in this book, possibly because it is literary fiction and her debut in the genre too, she chooses to leave a great deal unsaid and sometimes flits over the surface of things, so that many motives seem difficult to understand and many characters not fleshed out enough.
The Bhuttos are almost as charismatic as the Kennedys.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT