To concentrate solely on plot is to sell this book short. The writing, described as "silken prose" by Tariq Ali, is sublime: muscular yet lyrical, lively but controlled. Compared to the plodding, workmanlike sentences of many South Asian writers, Khan's sentences are a joy, as when Salaamat watches a sea turtle laying eggs:
Her eggs are smooth and oval, like a naked woman's shoulders. The boy caresses his cheek, wanting really to caress the eggs, wanting really to caress the shoulders.Or this ironic description of American college student Penny:
She was, in her own words, a poetess, dancer, and nurturer. Not as trim as Becky but, in her own way, just as spry, and though she too favored authenticity, it was secondary to circularity. Actually, she clarified, authentic was the offspring of circular. Or was it the other way around?
Politics informs this novel. The myriad characters are very much a part of the real world, constantly affected by events larger than themselves: war, strikes, refugees, shootings, power shortages. This is a book in which Dia must decide whether to risk going to school on a day when the opposition political party has called a strike; one in which Daanish's uncles sit in the drawing room bemoaning the evil of the USA's first war in Iraq. In a lesser book, these events might serve merely as easy point-scoring opportunities to belittle the American or Pakistani governments; here, they fashion a multidimensional world in which these characters must struggle in an altogether believable way. In so doing, this book is a singular achievement. With its blend of the personal and the political, the social and the individual, Khan succeeds in creating a fictional world quite unlike any other, but chillingly reminiscent of our own.
Book Description: Back in Karachi for his father's funeral, Daanish, a Pakistani student changed by his years at an American university, is entranced by the gazelle-eyed girl in the traditional dupatta who appears one day at the house of mourning. But the dupatta is deceptive: Dia is the modern daughter of a mother who, as the owner of a silk farm and factory, has achieved a degree of freedom rare among Pakistani women. It will take a handful of silkworms, fattened on mulberry leaves, to bring Daanish and Dia together. But their union will forever rupture the peace of two households and three families, destroying a stable present built on the repression of a bloody past.
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