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I really enjoyed this searing, beautiful, and understated book by Jamil Ahmad. I actually won it for participating in IndieThursday. (That’s when you buy a book at a local independent bookstore and then share the book title/store name via Twitter or on Facebook each Thursday.)

The Wandering Falcon arrived, a delicate gem of a book, like a small box of sand. Tempting, but I approached it thinking it would be one of those books that I would learn a lot from but did not expect it to be a page turner. What a wonderful surprise to find myself hooked!

From the very first sentences, Ahmad drew me in with his spare but evocative prose:

“Lonely, as all such posts are, this one was particularly frightening. No habitation for miles around, and no vegetation except for a few wasted and barren date trees leaning crazily against one another.”

The writing conveys a windswept, nomadic energy. Ahmad does not burden the reader with heavy prose or rich descriptions. I was completely taken in by his cadence. It felt as though I were hearing these tales from one of the Afridi elders, as they sat in their tented house passing the hookah and a box of tobacco around the fire. “The box had a mirror on the lid, which caught the light from the lamp and flung it back in mad dashes across the room.”

Usually I am suspicious of the ‘novel in short stories’ concept as just a marketing ploy, but these vignettes are gracefully braided together. There is a narrative arc that binds them chronologically and geographically, as the stories move from the southern desert where Pakistan borders Iran and Afghanistan up to the mountainous northern frontier above Peshawar. The setting is the post-colonial era of the 1950s, after the British had pulled out. Tor Baz, the title character named the ‘black falcon’, meanders through the stories as leitmotif. I really liked that. With each story, it was a fun little game trying to work out which character he was. I’m holding back on specifics about the many plot threads, because they won’t sound as good as the book reads. But, it’s a bit like James Michener‘s approach, in which different players, storylines, and cultures overlap and play out in a region.

After I tweeted how much I liked The Wandering Falcon, they put me on Facebook.

Indeed, I hadn’t realized that there were so many diverse and rival peoples in Pakistan. Ahmad skillfully draws out their differences via memorable characters, like the noble Dawa Khan who steps up to shepherd his tribe at a time of crisis, and the fusty old Ghairat Gul, who played the British against the Germans during  WWII, and the hopeful Shah Zarina, who despite her beauty has few options in life. Ahmad offers a nuanced, but not melodramatic, look at the harsh challenges and wrenching realities of their hardscrabble lives. He does not really delve into the current situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan, except with a final prescient quote from Tor Baz: “Who but God knows what the future holds for me and for this land?”

The Wandering Falcon is small, quiet book, but leaves you satisfied like an epic.

NPR Interview with Jamil Ahmed

The Guardian Review, with Background on the Book and its Author

Penguin Books: The Wandering Falcon

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IndieThursdays Get Readers Buying and Tweeting Books!

Booklovers are galvanizing for IndieThursdays! The idea is to buy a book at your local independent bookseller, and then on Thursday share the title and the name of the store in an tweet or via Facebook. The event was the brainchild of children’s author Ryan Jacobs, who wanted to inspire readers to shop locally.  Why not create a twitter event, he thought. After all, one of the most enjoyable aspects of reading is sharing it with others.

In stepped Jenn, the multi-tome juggling reader and reviewer of Jenn’s Bookshelves, who launched IndieThursday on July 28th. Each week, over 200 tweets (and growing!) post to the #indieThursday feed. You can also follow the acount @IndieThursday. If you aren’t on twitter, you can post to the Indie Thursday Facebook page.

Click here to find a local independent bookstore in your area.

E-readers can participate as well—as long as they purchased the download from an Indie. Here’s a list of independent bookstores that sell Google e-books.

Now some of you might argue that the prices aren’t as low as the book chains. But did you know that shopping at a Mom-and-Pop benefits your whole town? If you spend $100 at a local store, $68 of that stays in your community contrasted with only $43 that remains when you purchase at a national chain.

For today’s BBAW focus on readers, I’d like to shout out to Jenn’s Bookshelves for creating this fun online event. She has definitely influenced my reading, and shopping, habits for the better.

So let’s go and get some books … and tweet it out to @IndieThursday #IndieThursday or share via IndieThursday on Facebook.

Shop Indie Bookstores

#IndieThursday Website

Follow @IndieThursday on Twitter

Post to #indieThursday hashtag on Twitter

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