I had originally planned to read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye as part of Aarti’s wonderful September event A More Diverse Universe, as reading African-American literature is a bit of a departure for me. However, that didn’t happen. I started reading it, but somehow could never get beyond the first few pages. I know it’s a good book but I also know Toni Morrison takes some effort reading, and I just wasn’t in the mood for so much work.
Instead I picked up An Isolated Incident by Soniah Kamal, which came in the mail a couple of weeks back. This book comes strongly recommended by Khaled Hosseini, his books are highly readable and gripping, while also dealing with stories and issues that are not normally covered in regular fiction. I mean how many Afghani bestselling authors do you know?
So what is the Book all About?
Zari Zoon is a regular girl in Kashmir. She is part of a large happy family (or as happy as a family can be considering they live in what Bill Clinton once called one of the most dangerous places on earth). She is engaged to a young man and is looking forward to blissful married life, until one day something terrible happens to her and the people she loves.
Suddenly Zari Zoon is alone and being passed on from one kind relative to another while she tries to recover from her trauma and heartache. Finally, some distant relatives in USA welcome her into their house, and Zari turns their comfortable lives upside down.
Billy – a teenage boy in her new house is torn between his identity as a Kashmiri-Pakistani-American. When Zari comes into his life, he longs to help her but he may end up damaging everyone in the process.
I don’t have the words to talk about this book beyond saying that it’s lovely, simply lovely and it’s definitely going to be high up on the best books of 2014 list that I make up at the end of the year.
Throughout while reading the book, I was marking out sections that were so beautifully written that I will revisit again (will also be sharing a couple of quotes in a teaser post later in the week).
The characters were written beautifully. I fell in love with Zari and though Billy is a bit of an idiot at times, towards the end of the book, I couldn’t help feeling for his predicament, and the loss of all his illusions.
The secondary characters are also fabulous and fleshed out fully and I loved all of them. I loved Imran, Baz, and Baber who make fleeting appearances but whose spirits haunt the book throughout. I loved Billy’s family, especially Salsabil who is adorable. I even loved how well Abid (probably the most enigmatic character in the book), and Chacha were written. They are not supposed to be sympathetic characters but I loved them anyway. Am I sounding repetitive here? LOL, I warned you, I don’t have the words to review this book. I guess also I am still too close to the story to actually do any sort of constructive criticism.
Of course, there was one weak plot point where the book faltered a bit. Towards the middle of the book, there is a need to get Billy to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Kashmir, it is essential for the continuation of the story. But the actual events that lead to his departure are quite weak and implausible. At this point, I was going uh..oh, and started to lose interest in Billy’s story, but then a couple of chapters later this section of the book started gripping again. Getting Billy back to America also came out a bit iffy – it’s hard to believe that Billy could untangle himself so easily from his situation. However, if I ignore these two issues, the book is a great read.
Another strong point of the book is its readability and accessibility. Kashmir is a very complex topic to cover and not too many authors attempt it. Salman Rushdie did sometime ago in Shalimar the Clown, and while I loved his book, it’s not very accessible for someone who doesn’t have an idea about what the insurrection in Kashmir is all about. But in An Isolated Incident, Soniah Kamal does a wonderful job explaining very simply and within a couple of pages about the history and the reasons for the turmoil, and once that is out-of-the-way, the reader is able to focus firmly on the story without wondering what exactly and why exactly these problems were surfacing.
Oh, and did I mention how different viewpoints of so many types of people are brought out in the book without judgement? There was one wonderful discussion (about a couple of pages long, so I can’t include it in this review) between Abid and Billy about the need for an Islāmic brotherhood, the question of who you are ethnically and where you live, the choices that people are forced to make, it was so well-written and so many points brought out, that it was hard for me to say oh, this is a valid point of view, and this is not valid. It finally all boils down to each individual’s experiences and perceptions.
Overall, this book was fantastic, it was highly readable and engaging, and it made me think and I recommend it highly.
Huge thanks to Fingerprint books for sending me this book for review consideration.