Old, peaceable ways of life unravel in a ‘strange, compelling’ novel set amid the violence of 1990s Kashmir: Alice Albinia in the FT
Waheed’s second, new novel, The Book of Gold Leaves, is, aesthetically, a very different book: a love story, told by an omniscient narrator, about a multiplicity of lives in Srinagar, summer capital of Indian Jammu and Kashmir. In the 1990s, after Pakistan began sponsoring Islamic militants to infiltrate the valley, and India sent in its army, ordinary Kashmiris found themselves trapped.
In Srinagar the old, peaceable ways of life, and, in particular, of religious coexistence, begin to unravel. The novel follows the fortunes of three local families, Shia, Sunni, Hindu: those of Faiz, a papier-mâché artist; Roohi, his headstrong lover; and the teachers at Roohi’s old school. There is also an outsider – a soldier from the plains whose naive though benign intentions are sullied when he and his men occupy the school.