Top positive review
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Well written and not overdone, but sometimes a bit too brief
on 17 June 2014
Written with admirable economy, 'The Shadow of the Crescent Moon' focusses on a single family and a single day. The setting is the tribal areas of Pakistan close to the Afghan border, a region familiar from news bulletins. It was a fascinating insight into the lives of people in this troubled area and the politics of the region, although at this relatively short length it can't offer more than a glimpse. The action centres around three brothers who could each be considered to represent different viewpoints on life. The eldest is ambitious and willing to compromise principle in order to get ahead in life. The middle son is a mild mannered doctor who just wants to live his life as best he can. And the youngest is the rebel and idealist, prepared to risk his life for a cause.
The story follows each brother as he goes about his business on a single, soon to be momentous, day. It also gives us some details about their past and backstory so we can understand the context of their actions. There are two female characters - the wife of one brother, and the girlfriend of another. Their stories are also revealed and they play a key part in the events that unfold. The book paints a picture of a troubled region and a people who suffer at the hands of both the army and the insurgency. This is highlighted beautifully right at the beginning with the three brothers each choosing a different mosque to pray in so that if one of them is attacked, they will not all three perish. This was a very simple and effective way to bring home what it must be like to live somewhere chronically unstable.
The writing style is clean and very economical. There is no wasted time or padding here. This material could have allowed a much longer book, but the author chose to focus on the quality and not the quantity. I always admire this in a writer, and it generally makes for better quality as it means what is included has to be twice as effective. In this case, I found it a very well written and easy to read story and one that left a stronger impression on me than its length would suggest.
My only gripe is around the ending (I'm not going to spoil it, so you're OK to read on). I found it very abrupt and sudden, and I didn't really understand it. I felt like I'd missed something major - perhaps the entire point of the book. I felt it was working itself up nicely to a dramatic conclusion, and then just stopped short. So I was left feeling confused and unsatisfied, after a book that I'd thoroughly enjoyed up until that point.
This is a good book, well written and easy to read. It is interesting and relevant given that this region is regularly in the news. It gives some more insight into the challenges faced by the people of the area, and also the nature of Pakistan which I'd never really appreciated as being a diverse country with internal divisions. It is also an enjoyable story in its own right and has some good moral dilemmas to explore. My criticisms are that it misses a few opportunities and ends too suddenly. But it's still worth a read, particularly if you have an interest in the region or its politics.