Robert Macfarlane and Kathleen Jamie are the two most critically vaunted practitioners of the wildly fertile British publishing phenomenon known as “new nature writing”—though both reportedly resist that genre designation, and both are as much writers of history and human culture as of nature. Both explore these themes in similarly exquisite prose, but their tones and emphases are quite different, and their authorial performances have at times been contrastingly—and in Jamie’s case, one suspects, deliberately—gendered. While Macfarlane was bivouacking in the mountains, Jamie was watching falcons through the kitchen window; it was she who coined the phrase surely destined to dog Macfarlane for the rest of his days: the “lone enraptured male”.
When novelist Sonali Dev recently launched her new novel, Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, she mentioned at her release party that it is one of a handful of Jane Austen rewrites with South Asian characters. It doesn’t take much to work out that Dev’s book is a take on Pride and Prejudice, and other authors like Soniah Kamal and Uzma Jalaluddin have also written their own takes on Pride and Prejudice while Debeshi Goopta has a new novel inspired by Persuasion.
Fatima Bhutto’s latest, powerful novel, The Runaways, highlights the whys and wherefores that drive young people to join such terrorist organizations as the Islamic State. Anita Rose and Monty live in Pakistan and Sunny resides in England, despondent, living with anxieties about their identity and their place in this world. When a propagandist radicalized narrative presents itself as an answer, they latch onto it in a desperate attempt to fulfill what they feel are their destinies.
The prolific American geopolitical analyst Robert Kaplan in his book Monsoon wrote that the Indian Ocean region is the new “pivot” of global politics in the 21st century. China’s emergence as America’s peer competitor in East Asia and potentially beyond has magnified the importance of South Asia in global geopolitics.
The Sindhi diaspora, whether in India or around the world, have a warm spot for the name Shah Abdul Latif, an 18th-century Sufi poet from Sindh, Pakistan, and a contemporary of the better known Punjabi Sufi poet Bulle Shah.
Pakistan was once prime territory for Western travel writers. It offered an attractive combination of subcontinental color and Central Asian romance, plus a lively history and a hospitable population speaking excellent English. Geoffrey Moorhouse, Dervla Murphy and Wilfred Thesiger passed this way, among many others. In The Great Railway Bazaar, Paul Theroux even pondered the attractions of Peshawar as a place of retirement.
Despite being set in Zamana, a fictional city in contemporary Pakistan, this novel is no fantasy. Its depiction of religious intolerance is quite the opposite—all too depressingly real. Yet author Nadeem Aslam shines hope into nightmare with the notion that love (and books) could, one day, conquer all.