Friday, 7 August 2015

The Death of Sheherzad by Intizar Husain – Book Review

Publisher’s write-up:

‘A man scours the town he left fifty years ago for some little evidence of past joys. Javed, who’s returned to Lahore from East Pakistan, won’t speak of what he witnessed ‘there’. An old woman boards a train full of dead ancestors in her dreams. A sage who cannot control his anger must seek out a butcher for redemption. Mahaban, home of the monkeys once, is now a city full of human beings. Sheherzad, who once told Emperor Shaharyar a thousand-and-one stories, is now an old woman who has forgotten her yarns of fantasy.’

The book, titled as The Death of Sheherzad is a collection of fifteen short stories (with the title being one such short story in the book) written in Urdu by Intizar Husain, translated by Rakshanda Jalil. We’re always told never to judge a book by its cover, but that is exactly what I did in this case, I wanted to explore the literature of the neighbouring Pakistan, the write-up of the publisher seemed interesting and of course, the cover of the book looked pretty and I couldn’t resist buying the book after coming to know that this nominated for the Man Booker International Prize, 2013. But the question would always arise; did my risk of merely judging a book by its cover pay off?

Without a second thought, I’d answer yes, although, the very fact that I’m answering yes to this question only indicates that I’ve changed a lot, as a reader for one, the stories in the book are very, very abstract and at the same time, were on some very deep topics, like the partition, the idea of destiny and one of the stories really had a very interesting take on the India-Pakistan ‘nuclear powered state’ race. However, I really enjoyed the space provided by the author to the author to the reader to arrive at conclusions on the stories and the message he tries to convey, because, as much as they’re abstract, the endings are also at times, abrupt. The imagery, the subtlety in his writing, allowed me to create interesting visuals in my mind especially in some of the stories like Reserved Seat, Dream and Reality and of course, The Death of Sheherzad. The collection of stories also displayed the diverse interests of Intizar Husain, writing on topics such as the partition, the Bangladesh Liberation War, then moving on to philosophical topics such as destiny, certain stories based on Koranic anecdotes, such as The Wall (tongue of Yajooj and Majooj) and Dream and Reality(Ubayd’s governorship of Kufa and Basra) and also one from the Jataka Tales even though I’d score that down on originality as I had the exact same story in my 9th class Sanskrit book during school.

The only drawback I felt was that every story had the same macabre setting, despite the diversity of topics and eventually, it became very predictable as to how the story was going to end and what the author was coming to. Moreover, this book certainly is not meant for readers across all genres, including my own self two years back who loved to read only fast paced mysteries or thrillers.

However, I’d say in the end that this is an excellent book with a very nice collection of short stories; this has made me even more interested in a lot of other, longer works of Husain. If you are someone who enjoys drawing your own conclusions out of stories, this book is meant for you.

Rating – 7/10

Have a nice day,

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