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What Are You Reading Currently? [OFFICIAL THREAD]

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Reading "A Case of Exploding Mangoes" by Mohammed Hanif... Or trying to. The writing style makes the book a bit boring, and I havent even passed the first page -_-

 

Boring!? One of best works in English by a Pakistani author, by my reckoning... 

 

A refreshing change from the more serious tone Pakistani writers usually have.

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Boring!? One of best works in English by a Pakistani author, by my reckoning... 

 

A refreshing change from the more serious tone Pakistani writers usually have.

 

Perhaps its because I dont really know the context of the book very well, but I just dont have much interest in it. I got it because it had such high reviews, and considering that most books written by Pakistanis receive terrible feedback, I was intrigued. I guess you have to be either 30 or well-informed of the time period to really get it. But yeah, I def. agree that Pakistani writers have this dryness to their works most of the time, its like reading a history textbook :wacko:

Edited by Gotham

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Perhaps its because I dont really know the context of the book very well, but I just dont have much interest in it. I got it because it had such high reviews, and considering that most books written by Pakistanis receive terrible feedback, I was intrigued. I guess you have to be either 30 or well-informed of the time period to really get it. But yeah, I def. agree that Pakistani writers have this dryness to their works most of the time, its like reading a history textbook :wacko:

 

Most books get terrible feedback? Where? On Amazon? I assume you're talking about Pakistani novels written originally in English. If so, I'd be interested to know which ones d'you think got bad reviews.

 

As for 'The Case of Exploding Mangoes', it's a cleverly written, darkly sarcastic, hugely enjoyable novel that doesn't bog you down with unrelated, unnecessary, boring diversions. Truth be told, so fresh is Hanif's writing, that you can't put it down once you pick the book.

 

You don't need to know beforehand the history of Zia-ul-Haq period to understand the novel. You learn as you read along. By the time you've read it, you'd understand the intrigues, the conflicts, the hypocrisies of that time told through the story of an air force protagonist. The key is to get past first page!

 

To be able to give an opinion you have to have read at least 1/3 of it. Story needs time to develop so be patient. And if I remember correctly, the first few pages of Hanif's novel are a production of the transcript of a fictional affidavit.

Edited by Marbles

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I think most books get okay feedback on Amazon, but I dont think much of them when I read a book, because Im very opinionated about everything. There were some books that received high ratings online, but were terrible. "Salt and "Saffron" was one of them. The writing style was incredibly dull, although there was a passage or two that I enjoyed. I was surprised that it received 4 stars because the plot was so slow that I gave up on the book many times.

There were two other books that I remember were particularly bad. I had come across them a very long time ago in the library, so I cant recall their titles. One was about some boy whose father owns a factory, and the boy falls in love with one of the employees. One thing I absolutely cant stand is a love story, idk why. If the whole book is about a romance, Im not going to read it, unless its a Sydney Carton-Lucy Manette style story, something that has greater meaning to it.

The other book was about lesbian cannibals, if I recall correctly. I have nothing against reading about lesbian cannibals, but the book left me so lost...

"The Reluctant Fundamentalist" was interesting, and "In Other Rooms, Other Worlds" is good so far. I think Pakistani writers are on extremes; either they write exceptionally well, or try to sound so poetic and intellectual that it kills the story... And the reader.

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There were some books that received high ratings online, but were terrible.

 

^ This is exactly why I asked the question lol. I was surprised when you said they get terrible reviews. On the contrary, Pakistani English novels get unusually good reviews, by the lay reader as well as by people in the industry, even though the books are, to put it mildly, very ordinary or average, and sometimes, to put it plainly, really terrible and useless. There is a reason to it.

 

Pakistani English fiction has of late been very popular internationally due to the central, but negative, role Pakistan has come to assume in world affairs. People want to understand that strange country and want to read stuff written by its people. And no political book can advance our understanding as novels do.

 

But the selection of books is very limited, because Pakistani English fiction is only one and a half decade old. We currently have the so called Big Four (Mohsin Hamid, Nadeem Aslam, Mohammed Hanif, Kamila Shamsie) and half a dozen others which together represent the full existing corpus of Pak English fiction. As you can see, this is a small, limited and young selection of writers most of whom have yet to find their bearing..

 

Out of the Big Four, I don't understand why Kamila Shamsie has been so popular. She is not a good novelist, and I totally agree with your assessment of her novel "Salt and Saffron". The storyline is improbable, the dialogue is forced, and she has unsuccessfully tried to put some faintly magical realist elements into it (the curse of the not-quite twins if you recall? lol). I have not read her latest novel which has come out last month (and I'm in no hurry to read it) but of all her other four novels the only one which is slightly better is 'Kartography'. By 'cannibal lesbians' I assume you are talking about her 'Broken Verses'? Another terrible novel.

 

I think the only reason Shamsie is so popular because she is 1) a woman, 2) a Pakistani and 3) writing in English. Bang! A perfect recipe for book sales in our fashionable times! The woman has been translated into more than 20 languages for Heaven's sake..and she gets raving reviews on online as well as in literary journals :dry:

 

Mohsin Hamid is a fine writer but much hyped up, because of his iconic 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist'.

 

Nadeem Aslam is your typically dry, sad and miserable novelist. Out of his novels, 'Maps of Lost Lovers' is the only one which I found sufficiently interesting to read, though it has lapses in technique, esp his self-conscious tone. (I haven't read his latest novel so can't opine).

 

Mohammed Hanif is the best of them. I already gave my opinion about 'A Case of Exploding Mangoes' but his second novel 'Our Lady of Alice Bhatti' isn't up to the mark, but still enjoyable to read.

 

I can't quite recall the son of a factory owner falling in love with a factory worker.

 

I also liked 'In Other Rooms, Other Wonders'; a fantastic collection of stories. Good to see some writer paying attention to rural areas too. Uzma Aslam Khan is also good. Apart from her debut novel ('The Story of Noble Rot') which is c.rap, her other books are nicely written.

 

Two new debut novels have come out recently. Fatima Bhutto's 'A Shadow of the Crescent Moon' and Bilal Tanweer's 'The Scatter Here is Too Great' (I reviewed the later on goodreades ). If you plan to read any of those, please don't :dry:

 

Currently the situation is that if there are a dozen hyped up books the chances are only two or three are going to be worth your time. I'm not satisfied with what's being produced by Pakistanis in English currently but I am not too worried about the situation. It will take some time and a couple of excellent novelists for Pak English fiction to come into its own. The stage has been set; new and good writers must be up the pipeline.

Edited by Marbles

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Some great books on here - Wow even Faiz sahib! ( the translations are good by Victor K and others like Lazard but, you know what, poetry really cannot be translated (even though I do it as a hobby!) learn Urdu and read him in the original. Then try Iqbal and Ghalib and also Ahmad Faraz. Parvenu Shakir wrote lovely erotic Urdu poetry from a female perspective. )

Well, apart from a whole lit of Beats' stuff to finish on Kerouac et al. I am re-reading my favourite vampire novel: Lost Souls by Poppy Z Brite.

Parveen got changed into Parvenu by autocorrect !!

Hey Marbles,

I don't quite agree with your ranking of the Big Four ! I think Nadeem Aslam is by far the best writer amongst the four though I've only read his Maps for Lost Lovers. He is a prose stylist in the manner of Nabokov or John Banville and his sentences are delicious.

Another writer of PakistAni origin is Suhayl Saadi. Try his iconoclastic Psychoraag which was voted one of the top 100 Scottish novels of all time. It's brilliant.

Tariq Ali is not a bad novelist either. I don't see the reason for the hype around Kamila Shamsie nor Mohsin Hamid but wish them all the best as we need more Pakistani Muslims in the media for the right reasons!

^ This is exactly why I asked the question lol. I was surprised when you said they get terrible reviews. On the contrary, Pakistani English novels get unusually good reviews, by the lay reader as well as by people in the industry, even though the books are, to put it mildly, very ordinary or average, and sometimes, to put it plainly, really terrible and useless. There is a reason to it.

 

Pakistani English fiction has of late been very popular internationally due to the central, but negative, role Pakistan has come to assume in world affairs. People want to understand that strange country and want to read stuff written by its people. And no political book can advance our understanding as novels do.

 

But the selection of books is very limited, because Pakistani English fiction is only one and a half decade old. We currently have the so called Big Four (Mohsin Hamid, Nadeem Aslam, Mohammed Hanif, Kamila Shamsie) and half a dozen others which together represent the full existing corpus of Pak English fiction. As you can see, this is a small, limited and young selection of writers most of whom have yet to find their bearing..

 

Out of the Big Four, I don't understand why Kamila Shamsie has been so popular. She is not a good novelist, and I totally agree with your assessment of her novel "Salt and Saffron". The storyline is improbable, the dialogue is forced, and she has unsuccessfully tried to put some faintly magical realist elements into it (the curse of the not-quite twins if you recall? lol). I have not read her latest novel which has come out last month (and I'm in no hurry to read it) but of all her other four novels the only one which is slightly better is 'Kartography'. By 'cannibal lesbians' I assume you are talking about her 'Broken Verses'? Another terrible novel.

 

I think the only reason Shamsie is so popular because she is 1) a woman, 2) a Pakistani and 3) writing in English. Bang! A perfect recipe for book sales in our fashionable times! The woman has been translated into more than 20 languages for Heaven's sake..and she gets raving reviews on online as well as in literary journals :dry:

 

Mohsin Hamid is a fine writer but much hyped up, because of his iconic 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist'.

 

Nadeem Aslam is your typically dry, sad and miserable novelist. Out of his novels, 'Maps of Lost Lovers' is the only one which I found sufficiently interesting to read, though it has lapses in technique, esp his self-conscious tone. (I haven't read his latest novel so can't opine).

 

Mohammed Hanif is the best of them. I already gave my opinion about 'A Case of Exploding Mangoes' but his second novel 'Our Lady of Alice Bhatti' isn't up to the mark, but still enjoyable to read.

 

I can't quite recall the son of a factory owner falling in love with a factory worker.

 

I also liked 'In Other Rooms, Other Wonders'; a fantastic collection of stories. Good to see some writer paying attention to rural areas too. Uzma Aslam Khan is also good. Apart from her debut novel ('The Story of Noble Rot') which is c.rap, her other books are nicely written.

 

Two new debut novels have come out recently. Fatima Bhutto's 'A Shadow of the Crescent Moon' and Bilal Tanweer's 'The Scatter Here is Too Great' (I reviewed the later on goodreades ). If you plan to read any of those, please don't :dry:

 

Currently the situation is that if there are a dozen hyped up books the chances are only two or three are going to be worth your time. I'm not satisfied with what's being produced by Pakistanis in English currently but I am not too worried about the situation. It will take some time and a couple of excellent novelists for Pak English fiction to come into its own. The stage has been set; new and good writers must be up the pipeline.

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Some great books on here - Wow even Faiz sahib! ( the translations are good by Victor K and others like Lazard but, you know what, poetry really cannot be translated (even though I do it as a hobby!) learn Urdu and read him in the original. Then try Iqbal and Ghalib and also Ahmad Faraz. Parvenu Shakir wrote lovely erotic Urdu poetry from a female perspective. )

 

Parveen Shakir wrote erotic poetry? Where? Her poetry can best be described as romantic and modernist. The best female poet Urdu has produced, by the way. I love her.

 

Hey Marbles,

I don't quite agree with your ranking of the Big Four ! I think Nadeem Aslam is by far the best writer amongst the four though I've only read his Maps for Lost Lovers. He is a prose stylist in the manner of Nabokov or John Banville and his sentences are delicious.

Another writer of PakistAni origin is Suhayl Saadi. Try his iconoclastic Psychoraag which was voted one of the top 100 Scottish novels of all time. It's brilliant.

Tariq Ali is not a bad novelist either. I don't see the reason for the hype around Kamila Shamsie nor Mohsin Hamid but wish them all the best as we need more Pakistani Muslims in the media for the right reasons!

 

I am not against serious novels, or those which are referred to as "dry" due to lack of satire/humour. They just need to be told well. As I already said, I quite liked Nadeem Aslam's Maps for Lost Lovers. Much to admire here, apart from his sometimes self-conscious tone, and when he overly exaggerates certain issues with the immigrant community. This could have been excused if he wrote a satire, as is often the case, but Maps... is a very earnest story of a family.

 

If you read his other novels I am sure you will not going to enjoy them as you did Maps....His debut novel, Season of the Rainbirds, is an okay first attempt, but not more. And his The Wasted Vigil is just that: The Wasted Vigil.

 

I agree when you when you say Aslam is a prose stylist. Don't know about John Banville, but I strongly disagree with bracketing Aslam with Nabokov. The latter is in a league of his own.

 

Tariq Ali is cool. I have read three of his Islam Quintet novels. A good writer of historical fiction. His Saladin was a wonderful read, and the story of Banu Hudayl of Moorish Cordoba told in Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree was equally enjoyable. However, The Stone Woman was thin in plot and content and, therefore, didn't pique my interest.

 

But Tariq Ali is difficult to categorise as a "Pakistani" novelist. None of his stories are set in Pakistan save for a portion of his latest novel (which I have yet to read). He writes about Islamic/Muslim history through fiction. And he's a British citizen since 1960s and lives there.

Edited by Marbles

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Good replies Marbles. Of course, no one can be bracketed with Nabokov who is by far and away the best prose stylist in English but at times Aslam comes close and certainly out of all the desi writers he is the best stylist. I have the Wasted Vigil but haven't read it yet.

Just because Tariq Ali or Hanif Kureishi have British passports -- like many of us on here no doubt -- doesn't make him not of Pakistani original though it's sad that both of them are now part of the British intelligentsia and atheists to boot! His Islam Quintet is still on my To Read list except the first one which I've read.

I read one poem by Shakir which definitely was erotic in content though it was obliquely so and not direct. I will try to remember which one and post it.

Which Indian writers do you like?

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The poem by Shakir was called Ecstasy.

sabz maddham roshanii me.n surKh aa.Nchal kii dhanak

sard kamare me.n machalatii garm saa.Nso.n kii mahak

baazuuo.n ke sakht halqe me.n koii naazuk badan

silvaTe.n malabuus par aa.Nchal bhii kuchh Dhalakaa huaa

garmii-e-ruKhasaar se dahakii huii Thaa.nDii hawaa

narm zulfo.n se mulaayam u.Ngaliyo.n kii chhe.D chhaa.D

surKh hoTho.n par sharaarat ke kisii lamhe.n kaa aks

reshamii baaho.n me.n chuu.Dii kii kabhii maddham dhanak

sharmagii.n lahajo.n me.n dhiire se kabhii chaahat kii baat

do dilo.n kii dha.Dakano.n me.n guu.Njatii thii ek sadaa

kaa.npate hoTho.n pe thii allaah se sirf ek duaa

kaash ye lamhe Thahar jaae.n Thahar jaae.n zaraa

The room - cold, the light - pale green

her red sari's border rustles on her head

as they hug each other embracing closely

their warm fragrant breaths warm the room

his manly arms now around her

soft body, her dress gets rumpled

her sari's end slips from her head

the cold breeze feels warmth from her

glowing red cheeks as through her silky

tresses he moves his fingers lovingly

now for a moment he kisses her red lips

as her bangles clink on her soft wrists

words of passion uttered modestly now and then

desiring each other two hearts beat in unison

their lips aquiver they ask God together -

please give us moments like these forever.

-tr. Ravi Kopra

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Good replies Marbles. Of course, no one can be bracketed with Nabokov who is by far and away the best prose stylist in English but at times Aslam comes close and certainly out of all the desi writers he is the best stylist. I have the Wasted Vigil but haven't read it yet.

Just because Tariq Ali or Hanif Kureishi have British passports -- like many of us on here no doubt -- doesn't make him not of Pakistani original though it's sad that both of them are now part of the British intelligentsia and atheists to boot! His Islam Quintet is still on my To Read list except the first one which I've read.

 

Of course, whoever claims to belong to a certain part of the world has full right to the claim and so I can't deny writers their being Pakistani if that's how they categorise themselves.

 

But there is a slight practical problem with who can and can't be categorised as Pakistani. Take Hanif Kureishi. He often calls himself of Indian origin on his father's side because his family belonged to India and migrated to Pakistan only later. He himself was born in England of English mother and has always lived there. How Pakistani really is Kureishi? But despite this, he allowed his stories to be included in an anthology of Pakistani English fiction, because of the faint connection his father (Rafiushan Kureishi) had to Pakistan and also because a large part of his father's extended family continues to live in Pakistan.

 

Now take Salman Rushdie: Born in Bombay, he migrated to Pakistan as a kid, and lived there for a few years before heading to England and settling there permanently. Rushdie calls himself of Indian origin, and, in fact, has been the pioneer of British-Indian fiction. We all know about his views of Pakistan (and religion), and he baulks whenever someone tries to categorise him as Pakistani.

 

Maybe a double-barreled label (British-Pakistani, American-Pakistani) instead of just 'Pakistani' suits writers like Tariq Ali and the whole bevy of others who have their full or partial roots in Pakistan but live outside Pakistan and write about non-Pakistani peoples and issues.

 

Which Indian writers do you like?

 

I do not claim to have read many Indians but it's a wonderful and exciting subset of English fiction, and the one I have promised myself to get thoroughly acquainted with. Of those I have read I have enjoyed Khushwant Singh a lot for his iconoclasm and caustic wit. I enjoyed Arundhathi Roy's Man Booker winner novel, and have read some works from, Rohintan Mistry, Anita Desi, Amitav Gosh et al.

 

Of Indians not writing in English but in native languages, Rabindranath Tagore, Munshi Premchand, Krishan Chander, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Qurratulain Hyder, Ismat Chughtai are my favourites. Most of these are available in English translation also.

 

I read one poem by Shakir which definitely was erotic in content though it was obliquely so and not direct. I will try to remember which one and post it.

 

I'd still call it romantic. Although I see your point, this particular poem isn't really a representative example of her oeuvre.

Edited by Marbles

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My nocturnal readings are suffering currently, mainly because of tight work schedule that I have got myself into of late, and partly because I am having to babysit my little baby nephew in the wee hours of the night. Anyhow, unrelentingly, I keep a book with me to read whenever I get some free time here and there. And that's how I finished the following.

 

lastwordhanif_zpsf8f914c3.jpg

 

Typical of Kureishi's style, but not as good and interesting as his last novel (Something To Tell You), this is a tempestuous story of a literary novelist (Mamoon Azam), an Indian immigrant who moves to England as a student, who commissions a young writer (Harry) to write his biography. In old age, and with struggling book sales and depleting income, the septuagenarian novelist sees his biography as a good publicity stunt and to come full circle with 'the last word'.

 

A game of wits ensues: finely-crafted and hilarious series of incidents that see the novelist resisting the biographer's piercing questions, interviews he's always evading, withholding vital information, not wanting the curtain of secrecy to lift from his past, and basically requiring the biographer to write a loud paean hailing the great services the novelist has rendered to the post-colonial literature.

 

Things begin to fall apart when the biographer insists on interviewing a lover of the novelist whom he'd dumped for an Italian fashionista. The biographer is put through a lot of mental pressures, but he comes out with the book when the novelist suffers multiple strokes and goes bedridden, but at the cost of losing his partner and mother of his twins to the dying novelist's amorous advancements.

 

It's a dark satire of the modern literary world, its penchant for showering plaudits on writers who can be best described as mediocrities, of the necessities of the publishing business, and duping the public with what's worthwhile and that what is not. The narrative also critiques the faux halo of superiority around great writers: they are normal people like us, not necessarily more intelligent than non-writers, but certainly special as 'word-masters', but despite all, they have the same fears and desires like the rest of us.

 

But I have to say, Kureishi's characters are perfect examples of a Freudian world in which everyone responds to their libido in a freewheeling, uninhibited way. In fact, a person's life trajectory is dictated by their privates. Fidelity is not possible, no one is happy with their spouses or partners for long, and there comes inevitable infidelity, adultery, and sexual depravity - an unavoidable reality that is much challenged and condemned by our social mores, albeit unsuccessfully.

 

Kureishi expends a lot of space pontificating on the relationship between love and desire and whether both are compatible. It seems they are not, if honesty be made the judge.

 

Filled with piercing insights, loaded with cleverly-crafted sentences, charged with politically incorrect statements ('surely', says the character of Mamoon to a black feminist academic, 'being black isn't an entire career these days, is it?') and a clever laying out of the story through long and interesting dialogue-writing, it's quite an enjoyable novel.

 

Blog link

 


The Gatekeeper's Wife by Rukhsana Ahmad

 

A collection of short stories by a Pakistani writer known for her translations and anthologies. I have never read her original work before and I'm hoping she's good.

 

I have read three stories so far and couldn't miss the clearly feminist tone in which the many female protagonists found themselves. One story about the wife of a zoo gatekeeper (the primary item) who steals meat meant for the caged tiger to feed her hungry children, was an interesting read. The other two not so. I am not quite sure as yet if I like the collection unless I have read most of the stories. In due time inshallah.

 


Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and the 9/11 by Syed Saleem Shahzad.

 

I have read one third of it so far. A very complex and tiring read, as books on such topics tend to be. But so far, worth the effort.

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Of those I have read I have enjoyed Khushwant Singh a lot for his iconoclasm and caustic wit.

 

RIP Khushwant Singh. I was waiting for your centenary birthday celebrations with you leaning over the cake. It won't be that way now.

 

Khushwant.jpg

 

 

Renowned Indian author and journalist Khushwant Singh has died aged 99, his family says.

 

A prolific writer, he wrote dozens of novels and short story collections. He also edited several magazines and newspapers in the 1970s and 80s.

 

Khushwant Singh's novel, Train to Pakistan, based on the bloody partition of India in 1947, was made into a film.

 

He also served a term as an MP and was given the Padma Vibhushan, a civilian award, by the government. Link

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