Anum Shaharyar’s 'reviewed-in-detail' books on Goodreads (61 books)“This is among the few things that can be said about love with any confidence. It is small enough to be contained within the heart but, pulled thin, it would drape the entire world.”
The Wasted Vigil is the type of book I felt blown away by while reading, even though two months down the line not only will I not remember why I was so amazed, I probably won’t even remember what it was about. This happens with books that might not emotionally change me, but are so well-written or say something so interesting that I’m forced to take a momentary pause to just appreciate the idea, or the emotion, or the placement of words. In fact it used to happen so regularly that when making a list of my top ten favourite books of the year to share with my best friend, we started making two separate lists: one for books that we felt emotional about, and another for books that might not connect with us but were so smart, or spoke from such a completely new perspective that we wanted to shove the book at the other person and say, ‘Read it so we can discuss!”
This is the kind of book I want to read a smart analysis of, because there’s a lot of material in here to discuss. In all honesty, most books about war and Afghanistan and America pack lots of content worth poring over, even if it’s just to see whether the representation is valid or if the opinions are skewed. And it’s entirely possible that there’s a lot of problematic content within this book, but I enjoyed it, so until someone disabuses me of that opinion, I shall carry on with that sentiment.
This country was one of the greatest tragedies of the age. Torn to pieces by the man hands of war, by the various hatreds and failings of the world. Two million deaths over the past quarter-century.
Primarily, this book is about suffering, and that too of a very specific type of suffering: that caused by war. Even though the narrative focuses more on the intricate relationships between our multiple protagonists, almost all the relationships and by extension the actions and reactions of all our characters are guided by the fact that they are present in Afghanistan in a horrible moment of time for the country.
David had heard the truck explode from a mile away. Elsewhere he would have thought it was thunder, but in this country he knew what it was, what it had to be.
What’s interesting (or, one could argue, problematic) is that for a major part of this book we view the war through the eyes of foreigners, even if some of them have been in Afghanistan for a while. Marcus, an aged widower from Britain and one of the focal points of this story, has been living in Afghanistan for ages, a Muslim convert who lost both his wife Qatrina as well as his daughter Zameen to the patriarchal horrors of brutality. Our narrative starts when a Russian woman named Lara arrives from Saint Petersburg looking for her soldier brother who disappeared during the Soviet invasion. It is in looking for her brother, and in the connections that slowly spool open as the writing progresses, that we see the true mastery of Nadeem Aslam. Even though he takes his sweet time drawing out the past and present and how it all connects, and one could easily get confused between what had happened to which individual character out of the multiple important ones in this story, I couldn’t help but keep reading, even when I had to flip back to check which character we were actually talking about.
“Only the dead have seen the end of war.”
Each character that gets introduced eventually finds their way into Marcus and Lara’s story, from American ex-spy David to young jihadist Casa, or from local schoolteacher Dunia to the Special Forces soldier James. All of them are part of a wider story of which they form intersecting points, overlapping in sometimes good and mostly bad ways. But what Nadeem Aslam does really well is to at least try to give each character some complexity.
Of course, the book has lots of things to say about religion and oppression and basic human cruelty, most of which was horrible and depressing. Religion clearly doesn’t resonate with Aslam, who uses it mainly to explain how acts of brutality are justified by a large number of people. Although one could argue that this book is based in an era where the Taliban abused religion to carry out their strongest perversions, surely a narrative which can’t provide a nuanced look from all angles is weak in certain aspects? At any rate, I’m sure that there are lots of people out there who are smarter, more informed, and better at vocalizing their opinions than me on the intricacies of representation within this book. I’d be willing to have a smart discussion about this, and am most certainly open to changing my opinion about the book itself, but until then I’ll have to make do with my sleep deprived, read-it-in-chunks version of a review.
A public spectacle after the Friday prayers, the stoning of a sixty-one-year-old adulteress. A rain of bricks and rocks, her punishment for living in sin, the thirty-nine-year marriage to Marcus void in the eyes of the Taliban because the ceremony had been conducted by a female. A microphone had been placed close to her for her screams to be heard clearly by everyone.
What this story does really well though is to stress, again and again, on how senseless and full of malice war can be. All the characters involve are not only flawed, they are also in trouble, or have been in trouble, or have suffered a sort of meaningless indignity in a fight that they didn’t even start. I’d be revealing too many spoilers if I mentioned them here, but suffice is to say that Aslam takes what is a larger narrative and uses a very small one to give it depth and life. Things that happened on a global scale are suddenly personal, and described well enough to make it all seem so very real.
“The Cold War was cold only for the rich and privileged places of the planet.”
It’s true that the book makes liberal references to other stories, to literature that I hadn’t read and myths that I didn’t know of. But unlike other instances where I might have gotten irritated by this constant allusion to things I didn’t understand, for some reason within this story it felt fine. Maybe because it was all done so naturally, and because with every reference I didn’t feel the need to a google search, but the mention of unknown literature didn’t feel as uncomfortable as it could have.
Both sides in Homer’s war, when they arrive to collect their dead from the battlefield, weep freely in complete sight of each other. Sick at heart. This is what Marcus wants, the tears of one side fully visible to the other.
The only very visible issue with this book was that the ending was quite abrupt. Usually I prefer a clean, proper ending which grants me closure and helps me let go of the characters so that there’s a smooth transition to my next book. But over here a lot of things feel like they were wrapped up hastily, or like the author suddenly realized he was running way past his designated work limit and tried to finish it all up quickly. Which might be one of the reasons why I dropped it from a five to a four star rating.
Overall though, I still enjoyed it pretty thoroughly. I might have read it in fits and bursts, and I probably won’t read it again, but in terms of recommendations, I’d suggest that everyone give this a go, at least once. Worth the read.
Im not even sure what I liked about this book. This is going to be one confused review.
A dialogue between you and your friend about load-shedding.
Dialogue Between 2 Friends. Where are you going? You: I'm going to mosque to offer my prayers. Nadia: Khalid! There's a letter from Sajid. A dialogue asking one's way.
The prime minister was briefed on short and long-term measures taken by the provincial government to improve law and order situation. Meanwhile, Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ibad said that no slackness be shown in completing the short and long term power projects as per programme. Presiding over a meeting on Friday held to review matters concerning power supply in Karachi, the governor pointed out that people cannot be made to wait for long for availability of facilities, like electricity. The governor directed that this must be ensured and effort be made to make it operational still earlier. Dr Ibad said besides receiving additional 55mw power through this link, the distribution system too should be kept stable.
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