Posts Tagged ‘The Wandering Falcon’

books as clockI don’t know what it is about ‘Spring Forward,’ but I always find myself reshuffling my TBR pile. During winter, the early darkness and the cold winds prompt me to reach for heavier, atmospheric tomes. I started off November with Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel’s study of Thomas Cromwell versus Anne Boleyn. I followed that with mostly moody fare like G.R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë, and one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, Richard III (after they found him in a parking lot in Leicester). Shakespeare’s histories and tragedies feel like winter reading, but the comedies seem more apropos to spring and summer—except of course, Twelfth Night and A Winter’s Tale, which I should really put in my rotation next December.

Now, the changing of the clocks and all that extra daylight are teasing me with spring fever. I’m aching for sunnier, lighter reading. I particularly enjoy reading Jane Austen in the spring. I love the brightness and delicacy of her writing. Over the weekend, I reread Pride and Prejudice (for the 200th anniversary!), which Charlotte Brontë decried as “a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers.” But, that’s exactly what I am craving right now: literature that can fill the flower gap while my daffodils inch out of the ground.

One of my ritual spring reads is usually the newest No 1 Ladies Detective Agency novel. Alexander McCall Smith’s descriptions of, “the clear and constant sun,” the acacia trees, and Botswana’s dry, dusty plains work almost like a few hours in front of a sunlamp—a literary jolt of vitamin D. I am so vexed that the latest title has been pushed to November. I got a similar escape to desert heat, when I read The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad, which takes place in the tribal regions of Pakistan.

The LacunaThis spring, I plan to finally reach for The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver’s novel about Diego Rivera in Mexico. I’m embarrassed to admit that I will be digging into the hardcover, which I bought ages ago. (Sigh, the perils of the TBR.) Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams, The Bean Trees, and Pigs in Heaven are also great reads for the sun-starved.

Finally, spring fever makes me crave page-turners, so both Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and the new Sophie Kinsella, Wedding Night, will be at the top of my pile. If only I didn’t have to wait until April for Sophie!

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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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Why is Sarah reading The Wandering Falcon?This week I am sharing the joy of reading with Reading Riverhead, which spotlights readers and books that they love. So why I am reading The Wandering Falcon?  Hint: it’s a searing, beautiful book, which by the way, I highly recommend. Soon to follow up with a rave-view.

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