Wednesday, 31 May 2017

The Shadow of the Crescent Moon by Fatima Bhutto – Book Review



Publisher’s write-up:

‘Fatima Bhutto’s stunning fiction debut begins and ends one rainswept Friday morning in Mir Ali, a small town in the troubled tribal region of Waziristan, close to the Afghan border. Three brothers meet for breakfast. Soon after, the eldest, recently returned from America, hails a taxi to the local mosque. The second brother, a doctor, goes to check in at his hospital. His troubled wife does not join the family that morning for no one knows where Mina goes these days. And the youngest, the idealist, leaves for town on a motorbike. Seated behind him is a beautiful, fragile girl whose world has been overwhelmed by war. Three hours later their day will end in devastating circumstances.’

The Shadow of the Crescent Moon is the first attempt at fiction by the Pakistani poet, Fatima Bhutto. The story revolves around a family comprising three brothers in a small town (Mir Ali) located in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) of Pakistan.

One the morning of Eid, three brothers gather for breakfast and then head towards different mosques to offer prayers; the first time when each of them are going to different mosques. The eldest brother, Aman Erum, doesn’t want to be confined to the boundaries of Mir Ali and wants to leave the place and explore the world and run a successful business. The second brother, Sikandar is a doctor practising in a government hospital in Mir Ali who is troubled by the loss of his son and more so, by his wife’s new habit of gate-crashing into funerals of strangers. The third brother, Hayat, is an idealist and a Pashto nationalist fighting against the ruthless state of Pakistan and its institution, thereby following in the footsteps of his father. He is even part of an underground rebel group in the local university at Mir Ali. Apart from that, there is a romantic sub-plot between Aman Erum and a young beautiful girl, Samarra, who is very fond of Mir Ali and doesn’t want to leave the place; thereby having a conflicting view as compared to that of Aman Erum. The three brothers await terrible incidents to unfold over the course of the next three hours.

The fact that the Fatima Bhutto is a poet was definitely a plus, with regard to the book, it was a well written prose, with certain abstract expressions and a lot of scenes left open to the reader to conclude after giving sufficient input. I felt the character of Aman Erum and his fiancé Samarra was really well built, and how they had conflicting ideas and how they tried to handle them and also; the character of Sikandar, a pragmatic man living in the reality, and his wife Mina, unable to come to terms with the death of their son, was also a good aspect of the novel. Apart from that, the author also took up a story based in a less known area of Pakistan, rather than the plots that usually revolve around Karachi, Lahore or Islamabad.

With that said, the plot was very poorly structured; the events were supposed to be happening on the same day and a chapter starts with a time of the day. However, very little happens on that day and instead, the book is filled with flashback and other events surrounding it rather than the actual present and within the same chapter, the book went back and forth within the present and the flashback. Moreover, despite the author’s half-Pashto roots, I still find it odd; considering I reasonably know that FATA is extremely conservative and Samarra seems like a typical upper middle-class woman from Islamabad rather than someone from Mir Ali. Just to add further to that point, the author used her setting very little; the description of Mir Ali was very shallow and considering she was eyeing a global audience, she should have described the insurgency in more detail, regarding the factions involved – considering she mentions both a civilian rebellion and the fundamentalist taliban and she barely touches upon whether the two were in any way connected.

I picked up this book from the library purely because of her last name, considering her grandfather Zulfikar was the former Prime Minister, succeeded years later by her aunt Benazir and the other members of her extended family too, being politically involved. I felt the book had a great potential but it was very poorly taken forward for the first 150 pages, and then ended very abruptly with abstract endings. The author took a courageous political position to criticise the military establishment of the country, but the hatred might probably arise from the history of her family with the institution, well expressed, nonetheless. This could have been a fantastic book with a little more details and being presented as a fine 325-350 page novel rather than the 230 page novel that it was.

I still feel that the author’s writing was promising, I enjoyed her flow, but not exactly her plot and thus, I would be looking forward to her future works, but regarding this particular work, I would award it a rating of four on ten.

Rating – 4/10

Have a nice day,

Andy

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