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Book Review: The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam

By Imteyaz Alam

golden-legendTitle: The Golden Legend
Author: Nadeem Aslam
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Pages: 376
Price: Rs 599

Reading Nadeem Aslam is like living with the characters of his novel. The words keep echoing, the scenes keep flashing and the characters stay with the readers much after one finishes the book. The author has a penchant for detailing scenes, events, emotions and expressions in his writings. The reader experiences and visualizes colour, smell, sound, pain, fury, and cries, smiles, and laughs in the course of reading his stories. In fact, the portrayal is so vivid and engrossing that the reader is transported to the imaginary world created by the writer. Without rousing the sentiments, the author lets readers simmer with the empathy and sympathy for the characters.

“Many things in my books come from real life; but a novelist has to be careful in transporting a real event into the landscape of a novel. It is patient work, like moving a lake from one place to another with a teaspoon,” writes Nadeem Aslam about his own craftThe writer of five novels including Maps of Lost Lovers and The Blind Man’s Garden, and the winner of several coveted awards, has powerful context and content in his writings. His technique is that of meticulous weaver birds, of a master chef, of a music composer and of a brilliant painter. His sentences are lyrical, profound and precise. No word is out of place, no sentence is out of context. He involves the reader by the gripping content and by powerful imagery. Reading stirs the heart and mind. No wonder if he is associated with several literary movements; realism, postmodernism, imagism, and post colonialism.

Nadeem Aslam migrated to England from Pakistan at the age of 13 with his communist father who escaped persecution at the hands of General Zia-ul-Haq’s regime. He enrolled at college but dropped out, never to complete it. He lives in England but closely monitors the development in South Asia. The same is reflected in his writings too.

The Golden Legend is a timely, relevant and captivating novel. The story, set in the fictional city of Zamana in Pakistan, covers religious extremism, hatred and intolerance in society. There is a suffocating environment for religious minorities and also for liberals. The hatred in the society is so ingrained that even an eleven-year-old refuses to accept a drink from Helen, a Christian lady. Later on, the boy sneaks in, wielding a knife to attack and check whether Helen has a different colour of blood, as told to him by his mother.

Margaret adopts the Muslim name Nargis and wears a false identity all her life to avoid harassment, and remains in disguise. Massud, a fellow architect, falls in love with her in college and marries her. The architect couple later on employs Lilly and Grace for help in their work. Helen, daughter of Grace and Lilly receives the best possible education in Zamana with the help of the architect couple. Grace is killed by a person who is freed from jail when he memorizes the Quran in jail. Massud is killed in crossfire during an assassination attempt on an American citizen. The American retaliates by reckless firing that kills Massud and others. Later on, Nargis is tortured by a General from military intelligence to pardon the American and accept blood money invoking sharia law. A young Kashmiri terrorist, Imran flees from training camp in Zamana when he realizes that militants of training are up to brutal killings. He donates blood to Massud and later on comes closer to Nargis and Helen. Aysha, daughter of a cleric is widowed when her husband is killed in an American drone attack in Waziristan. Being a martyr’s wife she is prohibited to remarry. She falls in love with Lilly. The city Zamana is facing a dreadful new phenomenon that the secrets of people are revealed by a mysterious man from a mosque’s loudspeaker. One day, the loudspeaker announces the affair of Aysha and Lilly. Lilly escapes but the wrath of believers fall on his fellow Christians. Nargis, Helen and Imran escape when the frenzied crowd attacks Nargis’s house. They take refuge on an island designed and developed by Massud and Nargis.

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Why an increasing amount of South Asian writers are getting picked up by publishers

Gone are the days when readers would look up to international authors who had earlier set a benchmark for sophisticated literature. With Indians picking up more and more desi literature in English off the shelves, the sale of South Asian books has shot up over the decade.

South Asian writers, apart from harking their original, authentic and rooted voice, call for a diverse set of readers who not only relate to the regional synergies, but also crave for elegant storytelling. This is one of the reasons South Asian writing has increasingly become more popular among readers as well as publishers.

Bookshops across India and publishing companies report that readership for South Asian literature is constantly on the rise, making it one of the most popular genres at the moment, the sixth largest in the world and second for the English language. Read more

Source: Times of India


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Nadeem Aslam: ‘I take delight that my initials in Urdu look like a pen by an inkwell’

By Nadeem Aslam

I sleep in the afternoon and evening and get up at 11pm. I am at my desk at midnight and I write until six or seven in the morning. I have been working this way for 25 years now. The quietness deepens at night and everything feels saturated with stillness. From 7am till midday, I read. It is often said human beings don’t come with an instruction manual; but I believe that books – libraries – are the instruction manuals for human beings. To read a great book is to realise that everything is already known. I also look at the newspapers. Many things in my books come from real life; but a novelist has to be careful in transporting a real event into the landscape of a novel. It is patient work, like moving a lake from one place to another with a teaspoon.


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Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival 2017

Gender divides, social issues and the human condition are just some of the key topics to expect at the Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival 2017.

Now in its 11th year, the festival welcomes a diverse array of writers and thinkers to Asia House’s London headquarters for a series of literary events between 9th and 26th May 2017.

In addition to the Festival events in May, Asia House will also run several key pre-and post-festival talks in April and June. Read more

Source: DesiBlitz.com


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Book Review: This story of star-crossed lovers set in Pakistan is a must read

UK-based Pakistani author Nadeem Aslam’s sixth novel, set in contemporary Pakistan, is a story of love set in a world beset with sectarian violence.

Nadeem Aslam never disappoints his readers and the characteristic features of his novels – vividly beautiful, lucidly painful and yet surprisingly convincing – tend to leave a lasting impression.

It was this overwhelming sense of reverence for the Pakistan-born author that led one to flick through this brilliant novel, which combines realism and fable in a tale that is exhilarating as it counters despair with hope.

The Golden Legend is a thrilling novel and carries more realism than meets the eye. Just like “the spring of hope” and “the winter of despair” that Dickens mentioned in the opening paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities, Aslam’s fantastic work seems to reverberate with paradoxes and yet sounds surprisingly convincing. Read more

Source: Hindustan Times


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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

golden-legend

“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