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Book Review: A tale of great intertwining backstories

31st May 2019
Book Review: A tale of great intertwining backstories

The Shadow of the Crescent Moon is the debut novel of Fatima Bhutto
(Photo: SOAS, University of London/Wiki Commons)

The Shadow of the Crescent Moon. By Fatima Bhutto. 231 Pg. 2013. Penguin.

The Shadow of the Crescent Moon is a book set in a small town of Mir Ali straddling both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The story begins at 9:00 in the morning on Eid day and finishes at 12 noon. In the space of three hours, you are taken on twists and turns in the plot that leaves you breathless and not knowing whom to sympathise with by the end of it.

Three brothers sit down for breakfast and decide where to attend Eid prayers, for it is too risky to go to one mosque. As each brother goes their separate way, you dip into their intertwining backstories; of Aman Erum who just wanted to flee the confines of the town to the freedom of the West, of Sikandar who is trained as a doctor and does not share the nationalistic fervour of his younger brother Hayat, even though he has suffered an irreplaceable loss.

This book also talks about a deep love of a land that you see changing – because of occupation – which you never wish to leave. Samarrah, Aman’s first love, said, ‘I don’t want to walk on roads that have no memory of my life. I want you and me to walk our children to school on streets we know by heart, streets that have known us since we were children.’ (p41). It is this desire for a land to call their own, without fear of being persecuted and dictated by occupational forces.

The retaliatory bombing of 9/11 on Afghanistan was unjust and populace felt it. ‘It was infinite justice when they were the ones piloting the planes, but not when they were the victims of such just violence.’ (p38)

The irony of justice is not lost on the people of Mir Ali. The bombing began at the request of Pakistani forces and is seen as an ultimate betrayal. ‘The men of Mir Ali understood that the state, Pakistan, had aided the attack on their brothers.’ (p39) They had steadfastly resisted the army over the years, but in contrast, also use them as a ticket to greener pastures. These opposing desires – to resist and to use the Pakistani army – are at play in one household, culminating in a heartbreaking conclusion.

The mind of a fundamentalist, a terrorist, a freedom fighter – whatever you may choose to call them – is a complicated one, full of pain, hope and lost opportunities. It is only works of fiction that allow us to delve into them unpacking a human story in the process. And what a story this is.

This book is a cross between Mohsin Hamid’s ‘Reluctant Fundamentalist’ and the fast-paced thrill of a Bourne movie. It is also a reminder that if we are to prevent further attacks, we need to acknowledge the ‘other’s’ humanity and it will not degrade ours if we do so.

Asiya Versi

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