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In each story, many wonders
on 27 April 2010
This is a wonderful collection of eight short stories all loosely related to the household of a Pakistani land owner's estate. Each story is almost perfectly formed with a clear arc of a story and a poignant ending. We hear about the lives of the poorest servants as well as the land owners and their rich offspring. Everyone is trying to make the most out of what they have - trying to maintain their wealth, status, or power, all set against a fascinating change in society where the feudal system still hangs on - just. What is fascinating to the western reader is that there is no real middle class - and so the gaps in who has what are immense and largely unsurmountable.
This is a Pakistan that is seldom seen in the media. We see the status that a new motor cycle confers on a talented electrician, and the sexual shenanigans going on in all levels of society. For the servants, this is often used to gain security (usually with little success) while for the young, rich, it's often from boredom and as a kind of rebellion against the traditional expectations. I was surprised that religion plays almost no part in these stories, but then that probably illustrates the impact that the media has had on our views of Pakistani life.
Each story quickly gets you into the lives of these people who experience life in vastly different ways - which is no small achievement - and this beautifully demonstrates the complexity of the reality. The individual parts are each superb but the collected whole is so much better. If pushed to pick a favourite, then Our Lady of Paris is as perfect a short story as I think I have ever read.
Superb. Highly recommended and I look forward to more from this author for whom this is a staggeringly assured debut.