Novelist and Financial Times writer Hardy (The Wonder House, 2006, etc.) gently probes changes within family and village life in the Kashmir Valley two decades after insurgency strife.
The author vacationed among the lakes of the idyllic Valley since her youth, returning often with her mother to live on a houseboat until the insurgency for Kashmir independence disrupted the region. From late 1989, as the Islamic militants terrorized villages, threatened the local Hindus, kidnapped male youths to be sent to training camps on the Pakistan border and forced women to cover up, life in the valley, formerly “a place of picnics and flirtation,” became fraught and dangerous. In 1997, Hardy met and stayed with the Dars, an extended family of Muslim houseboat owners and carpet sellers who became itinerant salesmen once the tourist business collapsed. From listening patiently to the stories of Mohammad Dar and his three brothers, their father, wives and friends, Hardy fashions a richly textured narrative of this traumatized culture. Mohammad sent his sons to a Tablighi Jamaat school in the United Kingdom to complete their education, which was interrupted by war, and also to remove them from the lure of becoming “martyrs” for the separatist cause, which essentially emptied villages of young men, leaving grieving families and hospitals full of shell-shocked victims. Hardy interviewed former militants who fled the training camps because of abuse and inhuman conditions, and returned without hope. Meanwhile the women remain shut up behind walls in a highly patriarchal society, without access to education or notions of a wider world. The author peers deeply into this chaotic region and the needs and desires of the people who seek a fuller life.
In reflective prose, Hardy fully fleshes out the denizens of this remote and troubled corner of the world.