The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad – Book Review

The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad
Published by Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin

In the tribal area between Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, marital fidelity is highly prized, especially in women. When a man and a woman show up at a remote outpost clearly on the run from an angry father or husband they are granted permission to live there for a time, but also told they will be given no protection if a time comes when such protection would be necessary. It is their son who will become Tor Baz, the eponymous “Wandering Falcon.” Tor Baz’s wanderings through this foreboding borderland become the basis for exploring a number of stories of those in the tribal lands.

The Wandering Falcon is a unique book, it would perhaps best be described as a book of linked stories, but unlike other books of linked stories, such as A Visit From the Goon Squad, there is a single character in The Wandering Falcon whose life and exploits tie together the disparate stories in what seems to be chronological order. In this case the form works extremely well by giving a flavor of the variety of experiences in these tribal lands while still having a single unifying thread to keep the reader engaged. Interestingly, Tor Baz’s importance varies from story to story; at times he is so minor that he could almost be missed, at others he is an integral part of the story being told.

Ahmad is uniquely qualified to write a book like The Wandering Falcon. He has worked for many years for the government of Pakistan, mostly in areas of frontier management. The language of The Wandering Falcon is beautiful, particularly for the heart and humanity so evident in the stories being told. Highly recommended.

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A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear by Atiq Rahimi – Book Review

A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear by Atiq Rahimi, translated by Sarah Maguire and Yama Yari
Published by Other Press

Kabul, 1979. It is the early days of the Soviet invasion, but for Farhad life does not yet seem particularly different. This happy naivete does not last long, however. Something happens while Farhad is out carousing with a friend preparing to flee to Pakistan, and the young man is severely beaten. When Farhad finally awakes, grievously  injured, he finds himself in the house of a young widow – a woman whose life has already been greatly impacted by the presence of the Soviet soldiers.

Typically when I read, I like big meaty paragraphs, with lots of words to latch onto. Spare pages make me a bit nervous; “can this author really impart enough in these few words?” I wonder. Oftentimes, the answer is no. However, with “A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear,” the answer is yes. Some rudimentary knowledge of the situation in Afghanistan in the late 1970s is necessary to understand what is going on, but even knowing something so simple as the fact the Soviets invaded is, really, sufficient. With that firmly in mind, the atmosphere of a country at war is incredibly evident as Farhad drifts in and out of consciousness, as well as the reality he finds in the young widow’s house when he wakes up.

The prose is simply gorgeous, and incredibly evocative. This is all the more stunning as “A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear” is a translation. Maguire and Yari are very skilled indeed, to take Rahimi’s stark, poetic prose and render it lovely in English, without losing the sense of place and import.

This may not be a book for every reader, but for those who revel in writing and the power of language to evoke emotion, as well as those interested in feeling what it might be like to live in an occupied country, I highly recommend “A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear.”

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