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These sketches of life in the tribal lands between Pakistan and Afghanistan mark the debut of the 80-year-old Pakistani author. 

A timid young couple seeks shelter at a desolate military outpost. They are lovers; the camel herder has stolen away with his master’s wife. She gives birth to their son. Five years pass. The avengers track them down. The herder shoots his wife before he is stoned to death; the love child is spared. This opening episode has the timeless quality of a fable; unfortunately, nothing that follows matches it. Nor does the child serve as a link. He will be 12 before he is even given a name: Tor Baz, meaning black falcon. Later he will make occasional peek-a-boo appearances as an informer, a mountain guide and a trader at a slave market, but he’s far from being a developed character. The only links are the landscape (harsh, mountainous, forbidding) and the reflection of tribal customs. Often it is the documentary rather than the narrative details that linger in the mind. Take the Kharots, nomadic herders who move back and forth across the border according to the seasons. By 1958 the Brits have gone and the two states are demanding travel documents, but these illiterate herders have lived free of paperwork. They try outwitting the border guards but are eventually mowed down by machine guns. It’s a massacre, but a perfunctory one. Ahmad has big trouble with endings. There’s a kidnapping episode. It’s interesting to learn who make the best targets: “schoolteachers, doctors and street cleaners.” There’s a lot of talk but no narrative momentum, and suddenly it’s a done deal: Captives are exchanged for ransom money, smiles all around.

Fascinating material that’s badly in need of artistic shaping. 



Pub Date: Oct. 13th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59448-827-6
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Riverhead
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2011