Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Book Review: The Wish Maker

Here is review no. 3, as a part of the South Asian Reading Challenge 2011. I did read a couple more South Asian/Indian books in the interim, but did not like them at all. In fact, simply hated one of them. Will get around to reviewing them soon! Here is today's book:

Title: The Wish Maker
Author: Ali Sethi
Release Date: June 11, 2009
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover

This book is based in modern day Pakistan. It is a wonderful portrayal of the travails, tensions and politics of the country. The story revolves around a young boy named Zaki Shirazi, son of a political activist mother and a pilot father (who was no more). It follows the small kid as he grows up, his relationship with his cousin Samar, his adolescent pains, friends and foes in school, and bits and pieces of his extended family (buas, tayis, mausis, dadi, nani, cousins etc.). The turbulent politics of Pakistan serves as a backdrop for this family, as their lives and activities are directly interlinked with the country's turmoil. Add to that the cultural restraints on women in the subcontinent, and personal intrigue starts fomenting within the larger picture of political intrigue. The story is gripping and fascinating, as one is drawn deeper into the web of Zaki's family's lives and loves.

The book does seem to be autobiographical in parts, since both of Ali's parents are prominent Pakistani journalists. Also, the hero in the book goes to "a prominent liberal arts college" in Boston for his higher education; Ali Sethi studied at Harvard. A large part of the book is devoted to his mother's political activism, which could be true in real life. The book also talks a lot about Benazir Bhutto and her regime.

The story develops on the beautiful relationship between Zaki and his elder cousin, Samar. They see Bollywood movies together: she weaves dreams around her "own" Amitabh coming and rescuing her one day. Samar is portrayed as an example of the adolescent modern-traditional Muslim girl-woman: desirous of love, making dangerous trysts with illicit love, shifting the boundaries just a little- and yet scared. She is obviously caught and exiled to a small village, away from all temptations of town! Zaki is her partner in crime, aiding and abetting her. This brother-sister love is the heart of this book, staying on through separation and distance and time.

Ali Sethi's book also captures the youth of Pakistan- caught between tradition and modernity, religion and belief. The book also has a brief flashback of pre-Partition days, when there was an undivided India. We get a brief glimpse of the terror and carnage of those days. Enough has been written about the Partition, yet I do believe that the pain will never completely go away. Its like a limb rent apart from one's body. I feel this way because both my paternal and maternal sides of the family came over from Pakistan then, barely saving their lives. They lost everything: land, house, money, friends, family, history... faith, hope and joy. It says a lot for their courage that they rebuilt totally destroyed lives from scratch in a new country. I've heard the stories from my family, and so everytime I read about the Partition I feel intense, personal pain. Its too close to me to be able to read about it.

Ali Sethi writes beautifully. Some parts are a bit vague, maybe intentionally, I could not be sure. For example, I just could not make out whether the narrator (Zaki) was gay or not. I think he was, this was slightly ambiguous. He, however, sketches a beautiful portrait of Zaki as an immensely sweet innocent trusting fatherless kid, taking in all the pain and pathos around him and trying to make sense of it. The book, narrated through this kid's eyes, takes us on a journey through Pakistan: we sense the growing pains of the author and the country. Its women and its men. Its beliefs, religion, culture and families.

To sum up, I loved the book and would recommend it. It is a great gripping book- I was emotionally invested in the characters. And that makes for a great book!


Psych Babbler™ said...

Sounds interesting. Will put it on my ever-growing list of books to read!

Rachna said...

@PB- Do read it, its very well written. Loved it!