A memoir of a couple’s trip to Pakistan that also looks at the birth of a modern Muslim nation.
Shuman’s latest book (In Constant Fear, co-authored with Peter Remick, 1975, etc.) draws from his experiences as a reporter and editor for Reader’s Digest and his work in various U.S. government posts. Infatuated with Pakistan since the eighth grade, he took his first trip there in 1972. Shuman later longed to return, this time with his wife of only a few years, Elfie. But the country they found in 2007 was not the Pakistan of his younger years; instead, they saw a state caught in crisis, struggling to balance its entry into modernity with its sometimes-oppressive Islamism. The author aptly captures the nation’s fragility: “Pakistan is a nation on the edge, teetering between stability and chaos,” he told his wife. “It could go either way. But, if we stay out of crowds, we’ll be safe.” Much of his book reads like a travelogue, detailing the differences between major areas such as Islamabad and Peshawar and accounting for the myriad variations in the nation’s diverse cultures. Beneath the account of his and his wife’s meanderings, though, is the tale of a nation birthed out of war, struggling to fix its identity amid political tumult. Shuman and his wife met a well-known Pakistani judge, Javid Iqbal, who says that Pakistan has within itself the historical resources to become a prosperous republic—if it can resolve its internecine disputes: “The crucial question for modern Muslims in Pakistan is: What is an Islamic state?” Iqbal said. “Has it ever been established or is it only an aspiration?” The book does drag at times, as it largely describes what amounts to a couple’s vacation travel. However, its accessible description of Pakistan’s plight still provides plenty of drama.
An edifying account of Pakistan’s history and potential future, folded into a road-trip story.