Tuesday, April 26, 2005

A Warlord's Son by Dan Fesperman

For anyone not familiar with the Pashtun way of life, Peshawar and the tribal politics of Afghanistan, this book will be very informative. It is the most detailed and researched book on the subject of Afghanistan, for once getting most of the popular facts straight.
There is a lot of description in the book, from the first line the author sets out to portray the whole landscape, the turmoil and confusion (the dust), switching viewpoints to show the local version of detail and the foreigner's eye for confusion. A lot of ground has to be covered to tell the reader who is who in this part of the world. Many myths have been destroyed.
At one point the two protagonists compare notes on life and women and the author aptly asks, are we really that different? Caught up in one tradition or another, whichever stance we take, whatever the outlook on life, we go through the same turmoils and fight the same battles inside.
The war overshadow the struggle, the backdrop moves to the front as the story progresses, overtaking the personal for the political. Saying anything more would be a spoiler.
The dialogue is crisp and varied, moving from thorough to passing in the space of few sentences. The characterization is not thorough, many a holes appear as they progress. Daliya fails to impress. Her motivations seem too cliche and her connection with the protagonist needs more than just a page to develop. Similarly, her female saviour isn't helpful. Two months in Boston every year and such indecision and doubt! But the two male characters are good enough and the action keeps the book moving, ample diversion to cover the short-coming.
But clearly, I am not the intended audience for the book. I know the background, and the long descriptions and situation analysis going on inside the character's heads are overbearing for me. It seems, the author is forcing the reader to draw the conclusions that he wants, pushing rather than leading. Characters deciphering whats going on in another characters mind is troublesome to follow. And the viewpoint switches become bothersome. At some points I lost track of who is watching and who is being watched.
But the research put in, shows, and is clearly the best part of the whole narrative.
And next on my list is an author I am really excited about, Anouar Ben Malek. Hopefully, I learn a thing or two about poetics in prose from his work.