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The Scatter Here is Too Great – novel set in Pakistan (Karachi)

3rd October 2014

The Scatter Here is Too Great, by Bilal Tanweer – novel set in Pakistan (Karachi).

IMG_2606This is a very impressive book. Bilal Tanweer was born and raised in Karachi… and it shows. The city comes through on every page of the book – the filth, the mass of humanity, the constant traffic jams, the charm of many of its people – and the nastiness of others. You really feel you are there from the garbage strewn beach at Sea View to the throbbing streets of the markets. Hard to believe that this is his first book.

The link in the narrative is a bomb blast at Cantt Station that kills and maims many. There are several interrelated short stories that revolve around this event. The stories appear disjointed until you realise that a character from one suddenly appears in another to make a whole picture from a different angle. And the characters are a cross section of Karachi’s population. They range from Comrade Sukhansaz, an ex-communist and poet being picked on on a bus by kids, to a teenager who steals his mother’s car to meet his girlfriend, to a boy who is bullied at school, and to Asma, a girl who tells her young brother stories to hide her sadness within. Plus Sadeq, a boy who is paid to re-possess cars where payments are in default (quasi legal) and a successful businessman. And Akbar, an ambulance man who attended the blast and suffered enormous emotional and mental damage. A real coming together of those that make up the city’s society.

The individual stories and their timelines are at times a little confusing. We move rapidly from two friends bunking off school to their relationship decades later, and seamlessly across different generations of the same family. But I suspect this is intentional. Tanweer likens the blast at the station to a bullet through a windscreen, where a clean hole is surrounded by a mosaic of cracked glass that is hard to format and make sense of. It is not easy to tie it all together, and back to the event itself. I suspect the different stories and timelines to be the cracked mosaic around the blast – actually they are linked, but it is not entirely obvious how to the casual observer. The notion of cracked glass has produced a fabulous, and eye catching cover for this book.

Tanweer loves the city and its people. The people he writes about are real (if flawed…) and Karachi is absolutely at the heart of the book. It is a vibrant and challenging portrayal of the place and its inhabitants. People are generally upbeat and optimistic despite the conditions in which they exist. And, as I said at the beginning, you really feel you are there and taking part. Karachi is not a city I have visited, but I now feel I have a (no doubt naïve) understanding of at least parts of it.

A book I would recommend you to read – whether, or not, you intend to head for Pakistan.

Tony for the Tripfiction team

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