peteg's blog

Nadeem Aslam: The Blind Man's Garden

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Having broken my moratorium on new hardware back in July, I figured it was time I tried out some kind of ebook reader. To that end I bought a Kindle Voyager from Amazon a few weeks back, which got delivered on Wednesday past. Again on Pankaj Mishra's recommmendation, I extracted this book from the Chicago Public Library. Their game is to shunt you off to a third-party website and ultimately Amazon. In brief, the device is heavier than I hoped. The backlight is much stronger than I expected, and painfully white. Dries suggested cranking it down to the lowest setting, which helps. I've also found that the glass is annoyingly reflective when using the light in the ceiling. It works fine in sunlight. The interface is clunky but usable. A year since release, it still seems that the Voyage is unrootable.

This novel is brutally unsentimental. It is in some ways a complement to Pynchon's Bleeding Edge, examining the impact of 9/11 on the people living somewhat near Peshawar (specifically Heer), and how they conceive of Westerners (cf Shamsie's A God in Every Stone, set roughly eighty years previous). The conflict is multifaceted and internecine, with ambiguous connections amongst the players; the ISI (let alone the Pakistani military or civilian government) is shown to have only a tenuous grip on many of its (ex-)operatives, and their methods are rapacious and clearly unsound (whatever their desired outcome). Despite the language barrier some kind of mutual understanding arises an American special forces infidel lug and a local street-smart survivor who ends up at the pointy end of the narrative, more often than not. The women here are a long way from free, and romance is mostly of the thwarted, pining kind. Aslam is unflinching in portraying the aspects of Islamic doctrine that conflict with modern Western thought.

Aslam is sometimes very fine in the small, but mostly just lets the events speak in a tight, unyielding, keenly-detailed workman-like style that often approaches but never quite achieves the sustained crystalline clear-sightedness of Atticus Lish's. He ratchets the tension up in way that early-on made me think I'd missed something. Also he provides many motifs with meanings that I probably missed, such as the snow leopard cub: can these be tamed? I'm going to have to track down his earlier work.

I mostly finished this off on the plane taking me from Chicago to Vancouver for ICFP.