Thursday, October 6, 2011

Book Review: The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad

The Wandering Falcon is one of those novels that could be read as a fairytale. Actually it contains all the elements of a good old fairytale, as it talks about habits, customs and traditions in the forever mysterious east, and tries to explain to the ever ignorant people of the west some of the things that however how hard they try they do not seem able to comprehend.
     The main character in this story is a man that goes by the name of Tor Baz; a love child. Tor Baz was born at a military outpost in the middle of the desert, and grew up among the soldiers and his constantly worried parents, who were afraid that their sin would catch up with them. What sin was that? Well, they were not actually married, and his mother was the wife of his father’s boss. As it turns out they were right to be afraid, as one day they would be discovered by the people they have wronged and thus lose their lives. Tor was spared his life but he was left behind all alone in an oasis in the desert, helplessly hoping to live to see another day. And that’s exactly where an army officer found him and decided to save his life. So he had the six year old boy follow him to a far away town, where the kid was destined to discover an exciting new world; a world of written and oral knowledge, of modern and ancient wisdom. His teacher was an idiosyncratic mullah called Barrerai, a man who was bound to play an important role in the future history of the region. While times were changing and new realities were starting to emerge, and as “one set of values, one way of life had to die,” he had to do the best he possibly could to protect his people from their worst instincts, to stand in the way of the bad things to come out of their ignorance and sometimes plain stupidity.
     Tor Baz and Barrerai, using as their only weapons their knowledge and their cunning, would in the future pave different courses around their remote world, but their paths would meet time and again, either in the dens of memory or in some godforsaken places. Following their adventures we get to visit lands unknown to us and learn about some values and ways of life completely different from the ones we know. The aphorisms we read every now and then may sound crude to our ears; “Conscience is like a poor relation living in a rich man’s house”; but probably they speak tons of truth about the people in the region. As the two protagonists wander again and again over the invisible at the beginning but more tangible as time went by borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan, they get to meet, and introduce us to, a lot of people, and they see and hear and learn too much; they reach great heights of wisdom; wisdom which they share with the reader.
     This is a novel in fragments. However the author does not seem that interested in experimenting with the writing; he simply wants to tell his story; a story that evolves through the shards of different lives; a story about a world waist deep into the still waters of tradition and incapable of embracing change and adapting to new realities. But this is also a story about a land where women have no voice and no rights, and where the men’s ethics can at the very best be described as questionable, since they consider abductions and the trafficking of women as normal; no matter that the memory of one the secondary characters was “only a sea of women’s faces, and his small body shook with tension every time he saw yet another face to be sold.”
     The Wandering Falcon is a novel that really has a lot to tell to the readers in the west. At times it becomes dark but that only adds to the reading pleasure. Its prose is beautiful and nostalgic in a way that I cannon really explain, since the story carries a lot of echoes of today. This is a book finely crafted and worthy of the attention of any reader who’s interested in the mysteries of the east.

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