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3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 9 September 2006
o, after reading the book all through the night, literally, (I went to bed at 6.30 a.m.!) I finally finished this masterpiece. It was a mixed feeling because the book was so beautiful, the characters so real, the experiences of the protagonists finding so many echoes in my own life (and I'm sure in that of most British Pakistanis whether first, second or third generation), the prose so ravishing that I didn't really want it to end.

Initially, I started this book last year but it is not an easy book to read, the writing is so detailed, descriptive, ornate and choc-a-bloc full of metaphor after metaphor, simile upon simile, that one is forced to take one's time. At that time last year, I was too mentally tired and busy to make the effort required. This time though, I put my other reading on hold and gave the book my undivided attention. I'm glad I did! The language of the book is so luscious, so beautiful, that for afficianados of prose style it alone is sufficient reason to read it. If we then add to it an interesting, realistic, so-contemporary-relevant, central plot, wonderfully realised main characters, and a great gift for putting images on the page, this book becomes a must-read. The central plot follows the lives of a family of Pakistanis in a Northern England town for a year after the main protagonist's brother and his lover are murdered by the girl's brothers out of 'honour'. The two main characters around whom the novel revolves are Shamas, a libertine, cultural-only Muslim, secretly a Communist, and his deeply pious, conservative, wife, Kaukab, the matriarch and daughter of a cleric.

Aslam has really succeeded in portraying the lives, dreams, and fears of immigrant Pakistanis in the UK. That he does it with magical prose is icing on the cake.

However, no book is perfect, and this one has a couple of tiny flaws which I noticed. One is that the writer's Islamophobia is too obvious and visible. This makes the book at times have the feel of polemic

which detracts somewhat from the points he is trying to make (especially when he makes some unfair generalisations about fiqh). The other slight criticism is that, at times, he overdoes the ornate language piling metaphor upon metaphor in his vivid descriptions of the flora and fauna of England. These two minor quibbles aside, it is, without doubt, the best-written novel I've ever read by an Asian writer and propels him instantly into the top tier of prose stylists next to the Nabokovs, Joyces, Burgesses, and Henry Millers of the world.

A wonderfully written novel and work of social commentary.
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on 17 December 2004
This book is so good that i would probably rate it as one of the best if not THE best book i have ever read. It follows the life of Shamas and Kaukab and how they deal with the mysterious disappearance of Shamas' brother Jugnu and Chanda. The book is so beautifully written and the author delves deep in creating the atmosphere and characters. He does so with such detail that you become immersed into his world. Each character is so real and the author takes parts of their lives and interweaves it into the main story in such a way that u don't get sidetracked or lose interest but it enhances the main plot.
The other main reason for loving this book is that it covers so many subjects that we as, british pakistanis/muslims face but don't talk about. But the author handles each topic with such sensitivity that u feel that u immediately relate. Thank you Mr Aslam for being brave enough to question and expose the truth of so many issues that are in each of our minds but are too timid to face.
In al, a fabulous book and i can't wait for the next one
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on 27 April 2004
A gorgeous poem of a novel with a strong narrative and complex, intriguingcharacterisation. While it may take a little time to get into the storybecause of the rather dreamy meditative opening, once in you'll begripped. It begins with the disappearance of two transgressing lovers ina small Asian immigrant community in England (were they murdered in an'honour killing'? or did they run away from a disapproving society?) andspirals out to look at the impact this has on the people left behind,primarily Shamas the romantic, idealistic patriarch of the central familyand his traditionalist Muslim wife Kaukab, a hidebound cleric's daughter. Aslam has a great description of their profoundly different, yet in theireffect, similar outlooks: Kaukab was 'too busy longing for the world andtime her grandparents came from and he too busy daydreaming about theworld and time his grandchildren were to inherit. Those around her wereless important to her than those buried under her feet and for him theimportant ones were those hovering over his head - those yet to be born'
At turns funny (the retort of a Muslim woman to a Hindu speculating onbirth defects produced by an 'incestuous' marriage between two cousinssprings to mind... she suggests that the critic look at her own gods whohave 'eyes in the middle of their foreheads and what about those six armedgoddesses that were more Swiss Army knives than deities?') and tragicthis is a remarkable novel which deserves to be widely read and enjoyed.
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on 8 September 2004
Maps for Lost Lovers takes place in 1997 and is set over the course of a year in an unnamed community in England with a large Muslim population. It's primary focus is a married couple, Shamas, a non-believer and Kaukab, his pious wife. There are many mysteries threaded throughout this beautifully written novel, but the central one focuses on the disappearance of Shamas' brother Jugnu and the woman he was living with, Chanda. The two were not married and therefore were perceived to be living in a state of sin according to Muslim belief. Chanda's two brothers have been accused of murdering the couple. Over the course of the year, the trial over their suspected murder unfolds and many hidden secrets of the community are brought to light. It's a story of great suspense, giving precious insight into a very closed community that is struggling to maintain the beliefs of the country they left and the religion which is in many ways antithetical to modern English life.
It took Aslam over ten years to write this novel, working largely in solitude and subsisting on a very humble income. The beautifully wrought passages attest to the concentrated labour used to create them and the vast amount of time he spent with these characters shows in the penetrating insight he gives to their individual minds and hearts. The lyrical style of the novel which uses metaphor upon metaphor might at first be a distraction to the reader. However, this persistent way of likening one thing to another reflects the attitudes of people in this community who persistently compare things in England to their home country. It's a device by the author to show how they are in some ways unable to see things in England as they really are. One of the most remarkable things about this novel is the shocking, extremely violent reactions by the Muslim community used to condemn some of the characters' actions. Aslam based all these events on real reported incidents. He also depicts the extremely intolerant and racist attitudes of non-Muslims to this community of immigrants. However, at the same time the author shows how deeply compassionate members of the community are to each other and the difficult struggle they experience trying to maintain their beliefs in opposition to the more extreme Muslim behaviour some of them disapprove of. Aslam has spoken about how moderate Muslim's need to speak up in today's world and dispel the popular Western view that all people of this religion are dangerous extremists. This rich, entertaining and poignant novel is a testament to that struggle.
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on 3 December 2015
As other reviewers point out, the novel is oozing with lush poetic, metaphorical language and imagery which comes, the author suggests, from the traditions of Urdu poetry and Mughal art. This is very beautiful sometimes but gets repetitive. It is really too much of a good thing, rather like being force-fed turkish delight.

However, the novel has great strengths too, especially in the presentation of Kaukab, the devout mother of the dysfunctional Muslim family at the heart of the novel. She represents both deep maternal love for her family and children and also for her religion. This causes her problems because the children are living in a northern British town with the opportunities for education and sexual freedom that are anathema to her. Their lives are very different to her own life in Pakistan where she had little formal education after the age of 11 before coming to the UK after her own arranged marriage. Kaukab has strongly held, uncompromising religious beliefs and In trying to reconcile her faith and keep her children on the path of her religion, she hurts and alienates them and as adults, and they deeply resent her and refuse to see her.

The portrait of a Pakistani community in the Northern England is insightful, terrifying in its internal surveillance and shocking in its presentation of subjects like ‘honour killings’ and race relations.
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on 18 July 2005
If this novel only made the long list for the Man Booker prize then the winners must have been amazing. This is one of the most thought provoking and sensitively written novels I have read in a long time. The author deals with some very large subjects and I think anyone reading it can see that it highlights some of the issues raised by extremist and repressive ideologies. I think it would be wrong to see this novel as an attack or criticism of any particular faith, it does however highlight the corrupting influence of powerful organisations. The novel has strength, depth and balance in both the story and characters. An excellent read.
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on 6 December 2012
Not often do I wish for LESS of a good thing, but Nadeem Aslam's novel is the exception.
'Maps for lost Lovers' has a strong plot,vibrant characters and an intriguing setting. But although the language is poetic, beautiful and always relevant to the story, the sheer quantity of it means the book becomes laboured. )I managed three-quarters before starting to skip.)

The protagonist and his values seem to vanish towards the end, to be replaced with a lengthy synopsis of the story and its background. The drama of the his affair becomes swamped in---once again---an over-indulgence in words.
This book has given me a clearer insight into what everyday living of an Islamic existence may be like, especially in the UK. This has been of great value and interest. The book has value here, and in its language, but one can be over-fed on good things.
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on 29 September 2006
I read this book not as someone who is highly literate, but someone who wants to gain something from reading a book, whether it is an insite into history, culture or even someones heart. This book allows all three.

Yes the author can be a bit 'long winded' in his descriptive text but the real core of the story is raw and a window into the life of an asian family. It opens your eyes to the culture differences and how people of different beliefs lead there lives.

I wanted the story to have a tidy ending, tied neatly with a ribbon bow, but to be honest there is no end, it isnt a happy ever after like so many books you can buy, but it reminds you that this book is taster of what could be real life. It allows you to think about the story and characters beyond when the text on the page finishes.

This book came highly recommended and it now comes recommended to you.
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on 1 June 2011
This was so not what I expected. I thought the fictional Northern town in England would be portrayed in a 'its grim up North' kind of way, compared to the exotic colours of Pakistan, but Nadeem Aslam describes the place in such beautiful, vivid details. I first came across him in the Pakistan issue of Granta and loved his writing so much I bought this. If you like beautifully descriptive South Asian writing then you'll love this. The tiny descriptive scenes with moths and scattered torn pieces of a love letter on the lake are stunning, the story is pretty harrowing in parts but breathtaking.
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on 4 September 2006
While other reviews have slated this book, they seem to have missed the point. This is a beautifully written book that examines very real isses, for example the conflict facing those that have had to leave their home countries in search of a better life. It undoubtedly shocks the reader in places with sometimes very violent images, but this only adds to the themes and plotlines. It also shows how devout some people are to their religion and culture, that they would do anything for these purposes. Aslam writes with beautiful imagery and this is a book that you will not only think about long after you've read it, but talk about and recommend to others. It will only make you prejudiced against other people and sections of society if you are that way inclined. Otherwise, it will open your eyes and keep you turning the page.
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