What We Thought: Pakistani American author, Saadia Faruqi, wanted to convey a different image of her native land than the one that predominates in Western media. As she says in her introduction to her short story collection, Brick Walls:
“Yes, the poverty is deplorable, the politicians are corrupt, and religious strife is troubling. But it is also a nation full of kind-hearted individuals struggling to make their society better with optimism and resolve. That’s the Pakistan I want people to know about.”
The result is seven stories that take the reader through different strata of Pakistan society, from Lubna, a domestic cook battling a false accusation of theft and Asma, a single mother struggling to pay for medicine for her sick child, to Rabia, a wealthy young woman courting her brother’s disapproval by helping out at a clinic in the poorest part of town. There’s Farzana, a mother of grown up children living abroad who must come to terms with her changed life, and Faisal, disappointed in love, whose broken heart leads him into the company of extremists.
Two characters who beguiled and surprised me were Nida, a nine year old girl determined to prove herself worthy to play street cricket along with the boys, and Javed Gul, a rapper carving out a career in a district where, until recently, the Taliban banned all music.
The stories do not shirk to address poverty, extremism and corruption, but they brim with life and hope. In other hands, Rabia’s story could have fallen into the stereotype of a Muslim woman controlled by her family, yet Faruqi delivers an ending that is neither predictable nor saccharine.
If you want to learn about the real Pakistan behind the headlines, this is a good place to start.
You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Kartography by Kamila Shamsie, Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid
Avoid if you dislike: Tales that defy easy stereotyping.
Perfect accompaniment: Shami kebabs with roti, raita and chutney
Genre: Short Stories
Available from Amazon