(First published 1993)
It’s a story set in rural Pakistan and told in the background of a sack of letters lost in a train accident and found 19 years later. This is a fear that the letters which are set to be delivered to their addressees may reveal long-buried secrets. This particular plot line, however, does not affect the events and protagonists in the novel as there are other issues that consume their attentions. To me this is quite a hole in the plot.
The narrative takes place over a few rainy days in the oppressive days of Zia’s dictatorship. Although he is not mentioned, the technological and political references in the story put it in the ‘70s and 80s.
A local judge is murdered and through this event the everyday life in rural Pakistan, its problems and contradictions are laid bared. There is necessarily a feudal family which typically has law and law enforcers under their influence. There is a sub-story of an illicit sexual relationship between an investigating police officer and a Christian girl. The people are not happy about it and alert the village mullah, Maulana Hafeez, to act.
There is political crackdown going on too; the regime of a dictator (Zia-ul-Haq) acting in a typically paranoid fashion to silence its critics. While all this is going on, the angry and dissatisfied mass of people vent their frustrations on the Christian girl for “spreading immorality”. They attack her, strip her naked and parade her in the village streets. The Muslim partner-in-immorality, the officer investigating the murder of the judge, is not touched.
Attack the weak and vulnerable and hate on the religious minorities for the majority’s moral failings – this is how it happens, because this is the whole “policy of this harami (bastard) country”.
Lyrical and rich in the imagery of rain and oppressive heat and of the political turmoil, oppression and frustrations of poverty, this is an enjoyable first novel from a writer who has risen to become one of the foremost English fiction writers from Pakistan. My rating 3/5. Get it on AMAZON.