A contemporary romantic tragedy displays a startlingly fresh voice as Khan illuminates the complex social, religious, and economic mores of Pakistan while offering an outsider’s hard-eyed perspective on American attitudes during the first Gulf War.
Dia’s Western-educated mother, Riffat, who has run the family’s silk business since her husband’s random murder, raises Dia to share her independent thinking and assures her daughter that she’ll be allowed to marry for love. Daanish is an Amherst journalism student on a visit home after his father Shafqat’s death. Daanish is frustrated by the prejudice he encountered and the sloppy journalism he witnessed in America, but he can’t find a place for himself in Karachi, either. He adored Shafqat, an enlightened doctor who traveled the world, but Daanish’s smothering and needy Pakistani mother, the traditional Anu, is pushing him into an arranged marriage with Dia’s best friend Nini. When Daanish and Dia meet, though, the attraction of like minds is as strong as their sexual tension. Soon, they are arranging trysts. While Dia is head-over-heals in first love, Daanish has a more casual American attitude, though neither knows that they are following in their parents’ footsteps, that Riffat and Shafqat had a love affair years earlier in England. Dia and Daanish’s ill-fated affair forms the story’s main arc, but Khan surrounds the couple with a richly drawn Pakistan filled with characters struggling to survive with some semblance of dignity: Nini, who tries to make up for her early British education by being the extra-dutiful Pakistani daughter, and bitter Anu, who destroys all Shafqat’s gifts to Daanish. Foremost is the driver Salaamat, whose fishing community was destroyed by foreign trawlers and who considers the central romance trivial compared to the issues of survival he’s faced.
A rare, wonderful gift of a novel that defies mere plot synopsis: a complex fictional world that illuminates the real one and seamlessly merges the personal with the larger sociopolitical conundrums we all face today.