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A Story of Chaos at the Border of Turkey and Syria

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Dark at the Crossing By Elliot Ackerman

237 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $25.95.

“The age of the war correspondent as hero,” Phillip Knightley famously wrote in his book “The First Casualty,” “appears to be over.” According to Knightley, Vietnam was the high-water mark for the self-mythologizing and self-aggrandizing descendants of the war correspondent Ernie Pyle, mowed down by the Japanese on the island of Ie Shima in 1945. Since then, he argued, governments at war have learned to tame their roving journalists; to exaggerate only by a certain degree, many correspondents have become variants of the press eunuchs laconically described by Evelyn Waugh in Abyssinia sitting at the hotel bar writing up the destruction of a hospital in Adowa by Italian bombers. During that war in 1936, indeed, Waugh himself received an actual cable from his editors in London concerning the “heroic nurses” supposedly killed at Adowa. It read, “Require earliest name life story photograph American nurse upblown Adowa.” To which he immortally replied, “Nurse unupblown.” The journalistic stenography of war had already begun.

But what, conversely, of the war literature created by Americans not implicated in the corporate machinery of reportage? It could be argued that it’s a richer harvest. And one could also argue that the most vital literary terrain in America’s overseas wars is now occupied not by journalists but by novelists and even poets: Jehanne Dubrow’s “Stateside,” Brian Turner’s “Phantom Noise,” David Abrams’s “Fobbit,” Nadeem Aslam’s “The Blind Man’s Garden,” the stories of Katey Schultz. Read more

Source: NY Times

 


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Excerpts: The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam

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The doorbell rang at last. When she answered it she found a boy of about eleven or twelve standing in the lane, with several bags of food and a thick bushel of reeds.

‘You should be at school,’ she said when she brought him in- to the kitchen.

He did not respond. His face was beautiful and doll-like and he was looking towards the bird wings hanging on the pink wall. He had placed the bags on the dining table and was using his grimy sleeve to absorb the perspiration from his forehead and upper lip, holding his gaze on the wings. He went towards them and reached out with a finger and touched the lime green feather of an Alexandrine parakeet.

‘Does the man with the straw hat live here?’ he asked. ‘The one with the elastic going over his shoulders.’

‘They are called braces. Or galluses.’ ‘Gal…lu…ses.’

She held up the bottle of Rooh Afza he had brought, crack- ing open the seal on the cap. ‘Would you like a drink of this?’

He seemed uncertain. ‘I overheard the lady mention some- one named Helen,’ he said. ‘Is that you?’

‘Yes.’

‘Are you an infidel?’

Helen had been looking into one of the bags. She raised her head but not her eyelids. At the beginning of high school, when she was fourteen years old, a teacher had asked her to stand up in class and ‘justify taking the place of a Muslim’.

‘Are you a servant here?’ the boy continued. ‘You don’t look like one.’

When she finally glanced at him he nodded towards the Rooh Afza bottle. ‘I am a Muslim, I can’t accept a drink from your hand.’ And he added, ‘You should know that. Shouldn’t you?’

At nineteen, Helen was old enough to remain unsurprised by occasions such as these. She had always known them and could not have separated them from the most basic facts of her existence. Still, sometimes she was caught off guard.

She watched him from the kitchen window as he crossed the garden at an unhurried pace and left the house, stopping twice on the semicircular path through the grass, to look up at the ripening fruit or some creature moving in the branches.

She put away the items of food, and divided and bound the river reeds into brooms. Afterwards she carried the alumini- um stepladder to the study and unfolded it below the model of the Hagia Sophia. She stood there for a few moments: even from the topmost step of the ladder, the book would be too high up. She needed something to nudge it with, and she went back to the kitchen and unhooked the giant wing of the trum- peter swan and returned with it, the feathers blindingly white when she walked through the rays of the sun on the veranda, almost a detonation.

As she climbed up with the four-foot wing she thought of her mother who would use this ladder to dust the upper reaches of walls and shelves in this house. She recalled the story of her parents’ first meeting. Grace had been fifteen years old at the time and was a servant in someone’s house, and she had approached a passing policeman one day in a distraught state and demanded that he arrest a certain seventeen-year-old gardener’s boy from a nearby house. ‘I cannot stop think- ing about him!’ she had declared. ‘Each night the thought of him keeps me awake, and all day I long for him. I demand justice!’ Looking for a few moments of amusement, the police- man had followed the spirited, indignant girl as she led him to her criminal. He was entirely unaware of her, of course, and was speechless now, to find himself accused of being her incre- mental killer.

Helen arrived at the top step of the ladder – ‘This is where the wolf lives,’ Grace would say – and she stretched the wing of the swan cautiously towards the book on the small windowsill. The tip of the last feather fell just short of making contact with the book’s spine, and she raised herself onto her toes to attain the extra inches. There was a dull, indistinct noise from some- where below her at that moment, and she glanced down to see that the boy from the shop had appeared at the door to the study.

Carefully she brought her heels back down to the metal sur- face of the step. She had neglected to lock the door after his departure.

‘Did you forget something?’

He was looking at her and the expression on his face was somewhere between a sneer and a swoon, his body partly con- cealed in the shadow being thrown by a shelf. As he advanced into the room Helen saw that he was in fact trembling, the sharp length of the knife in his right hand moving to and fro as he approached the ladder.

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What to read in 2017

By Palash Krishna Mehrotra

Is any year a good year for books? Despite doomsday predictions, the book is alive and kicking. Here’s a list of titles to look out for in 2017, from all God’s publishers, big and small.

The God of Small Things came out in my last year of college in 1997. Two decades later, as I sit perched on the cusp of middle-age, Arundhati Roy returns with her new novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. Has she changed; have we changed? We shall find out soon.

Among other novels from Penguin Random House India, there’s Nadeem Aslam’s The Golden Legend, set in contemporary Pakistan; Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West,a love story set against the backdrop of the international refugee crisis; and Perumal Murugan’s Seasons of the Palm, the story of a young untouchable farmhand. In his novel, Friend of My Youth, a meditation on the passage of time, Amit Chaudhuri treads the fine line between fiction and non-fiction and emerges with a sensitive commemoration of Bombay and an unusual friendship. Read more

Source: DailyO


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Book review: The Golden Legend – beauty and pain in Pakistan

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“Two of their buildings fell down and they think they know about the world’s darkness, about how unsafe a place it is capable of being!” remarks a character in Nadeem Aslam’s The Wasted Vigil (2008). That was a novel set in Afghanistan amid the ruins of war, juxtaposing Eastern and Western characters united by the experience of loss.

He continued with this setting in his The Blind Man’s Garden (2013), this time populating Afghanistan with characters from his native Pakistan. Now, in his fifth novel, Aslam returns to Pakistan itself for the first time since his 1993 debut, Season of the Rainbirds. And the country he depicts is one bent on completing what the West has begun with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, by revealing quite how dark and unsafe the world can be. This is a landscape of irrational sectarian violence, rivalry and cruelty.

The novel opens with the death of middle-aged architect Massud, who leaves behind his wife and collaborator, Nargis. Together, they have created a collection of exquisite buildings and fought for culture in a hostile world. He is accidentally shot during the inauguration of a new library they’ve designed in the fictional city of Zamana, as they form part of a mile-long human chain to transport the precious books to their new home. Read more

Source: South China Morning Post


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Five Books By Pakistani Writers That Deserve To Be Celebrated More Often

It is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine, for instance, the history of literary fiction in English coming out of India and its neighbouring countries without paying close attention to Pakistan. From Mohammed Hanif to Moni Mohsin, Fatima Bhutto to Ali Sethi, Nadeem Aslam to Mohsin Hamid, the list of writers based in Pakistan, or of Pakistani origin, is diverse and distinguished. But these five that follow deserve a special mention, simply because their understated charm and power to delight are not celebrated often enough — or as much as they should be.

The Crow Eaters, Bapsi Sidhwa

One of the funniest novels by a Pakistani writer, The Crow Eaters was Sidhwa’s first published book. Set in the early years of the 20th century, it tells the story of Freddy Junglewalla, who moves his family — his pregnant wife, baby daughter and irritable mother-in-law — from their ancestral home, somewhere in the hinterland of Pakistan, to the glittering cosmopolis of Lahore.

In the city, he embarks on a successful venture, but as Freddy’s fortunes grow, so does his bickering with his mother-in-law, the domineering Jerbanoo. Written in faux-elegant British English, every sentence of this large-hearted novel is laced with wit. An endearing portrait of the Parsees in Pakistan, this is a gripping read from the beginning till the end.

The Wandering Falcon, Jamil Ahmad

A quiet but haunting debut, this collection of stories by a Pakistani civil servant who spent several years in Baluchistan was much acclaimed for its delicate realism. The characters — poor peasants, tribal lords — are drawn vividly from life and are usually the stuff of news reports coming out this region. Ahmad brought these figures to life with poetic brushstrokes and in his unfailingly controlled prose.

Written over a period of time, the stories were retrieved from his drawer and published in this volume when Ahmad was in his 70s. The collection was nominated for the Man Asian Literary Prize, one of Asia’s most prestigious literary awards, in 2011. Read more


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Nadeem Aslam shortlisted for the 2014 RSL Ondaatje Prize

Nadeem Aslam, the British novelist of Pakistani origin, has made it to the shortlist of this year’s Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize.

This is an annual award of £10,000 for a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry, evoking the spirit of a place.

This year’s judges are Imtiaz Dharker, A.L. Kennedy and Jenny Uglow.

The RSL recently announced the shortlist:

NadeemNadeem Aslam The Blind Man’s Garden (Faber)
Patrick Barkham Badgerlands (Granta)
Mark Dapin Spirit House (Tuskar Rock Press)
Tim Dee Four Fields (Jonathan Cape)
Alan Johnson This Boy (Bantam Press)
Esther Woolfson Field Notes From a Hidden City (Hamish Hamilton) Continue reading


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Pak novelist wins top literature prize

NadeemPakistani writer Nadeem Aslam has won the Yale University’s prestigious Windham Campbell Literature Prize 2014 for his fiction works which “explore historical and political trauma with lyricism and profound compassion”.

Aslam is among the eight winners in three categories – fiction, non-fiction and drama – who will receive $150,000 each in recognition of their achievements and to support their ongoing work. Continue reading


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Mohsin Hamid, Cyrus Mistry shortlisted for literature prize

Cyrus Mistry’s ‘Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer’, Mohsin Hamid’s ‘How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia’ and Nayomi Munaweera’s ‘Island of a Thousand Mirrors’ have been shortlisted for the DSC South Asian Literature Prize 2014.

Apart from these, Nadeem Aslam’s ‘The Blind Man’s Garden’ and two translations ‘Book of Destruction’ by Anand and Benyamin’s ‘Goat Days’ will also be vying for the prize money of $50,000.

The list was announced Wednesday in London at a ceremony.

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Review: The Blind Man’s Garden by Nadeem Aslam

Nina Martyris reviews The Blind Man’s Garden by Nadeem Aslam in the LARB

BlindMansGardenAslam roots The Blind Man’s Garden in a fictional town in northern Pakistan, but the story spills over into the chaos of Afghanistan. Though written after The Wasted Vigil, the events in it prequel those of the earlier novel, which is set a few years into the war on terror. This is a looser, less honed book than its outstanding predecessor, and because it hoes the same brutal and melancholy 9/11 furrow, it lacks the freshness of the former. But it is still has the power to move and terrify. Continue reading