Kirkus Reviews QR Code
INSTANT CITY by Steve Inskeep

INSTANT CITY

Life and Death in Karachi

By Steve Inskeep

Pub Date: Oct. 17th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59420-315-2
Publisher: Penguin Press

NPR’s Morning Edition co-host Inskeep explores Karachi, Pakistan, a mega-city of hopes and conflict, “a field of operations for the makers of buildings and bombs.”

Karachi is an “instant city,” where, as with Shanghai and Istanbul, the population has soared with unprecedented speed. In 1945, Karachi had a population of 400,000; today it is 13 million. Millions arrived during the partition of India, still more from what is now Bangladesh, and millions more have fled the violence of Pakistan’s northern border with Afghanistan. Amid a combustible mix of religious difference—though the population is overwhelmingly Muslim—and divisions of class, language and even ancestral home village, Karachi is a city where “[l]ifelong residents and newcomers alike jostle for power and resources in a swiftly evolving landscape that disorients them all.” As venal political parties both breed and feed on the city’s divisions, battles over the riches to be made, especially in real estate, have changed the city. Inskeep examines this part of the culture, but he also looks at those simply trying to make a difference. An emergency-room doctor tended to all wounded by bombings and riots, as the emergency room itself became a target for terrorism. Another resident built a charitable empire by providing cheap or free ambulance service and pharmaceuticals. An organizer helped the poor build housing and find basic services, creating self-governing enclaves within a debased political system. Developers have dreamt of, and at times realized, skyscrapers, malls, hotels and city centers to attract the foreign capital Karachi needs to survive in an age of globalization. Inskeep seemingly looked at everything and talked to everyone—religious zealots, political bosses and people simply trying to get by. Here he finds the promise of Karachi, “the most powerful force in the instant city; the desire of millions of people—simple quiet, humble, and relentless, no matter what the odds—to make their lives just a tiny bit better than they were.”

Passionate and compassionate reporting on an extraordinary city.