Review: The Return of Faraz Ali by Aamina Ahmad

Ahmad — who was born in London and teaches creative writing at San Jose State University — doesn’t put pro-Western guard rails on the pages of her story. This gives the novel the confidence of Preti Taneja’s We That Are Young. There is no apparent explanation as to what time of day Fajr prayer occurs or how many stops the train makes between Khulna and Gwalior. The implicit message to the reader is simple: to be in place or not; Nobody will translate the signposts.

It’s difficult to write a novel like this without exploring a spectrum of violence. There is immense misery in this book. Ahmad has conducted her research and the world she constructs, where women in the Mohalla are grateful for the birth of a daughter because the child, through the work she is inevitably forced to do, represents a form of retirement for her parent; where the killing of such a child is treated as an unpleasant inconvenience – is fictional but tied to the world as it was, and in places still is. Throughout the novel, as Ali struggles to reconcile his morals with the orders he has been given while pursuing the family past to which he has been denied access, the purest form of misery is revealed as an inheritance, a ancestral cause .

At the line level, Ahmad has a habit of softening the most grotesque scenes, lending them an intimacy that would probably wash it all out louder. At the beginning of the story, when Ali is trying to quell a protest, Ali smashes one of the young protesters: “It was a relief to see the boy’s face opening up to him, his contours, his ridges giving way so easily, as if he wanted nothing more than this, as if he were being set free.”

Ahmad’s compassion and deep caring for the psychological and emotional nuances of her characters never waver, no matter how monstrous or self-serving or defeated they become. It remains how Ali endured the punishment for insubordination: exile to East Pakistan on the eve of Bangladesh’s independence, his bright career prospects dashed. It remains how Ali’s sister Rozina, once a diva of some fame, navigates the bleakness of life out of the limelight. It spans generations and changes of location, culminating in a devastating final chapter, utterly human, utterly preoccupied with what makes us human, regardless of the size of the wounds or the immunity of those inflicting them. The powerful could often escape the consequences, Ahmad shows, but life without them is its own brand of poverty, its own miserable inheritance.

Omar El Akkad is the author of What Strange Paradise.

By Amina Ahmad
339 S. Riverhead Books. $27.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/01/books/review/return-of-faraz-ali-aamina-ahmad.html Review: The Return of Faraz Ali by Aamina Ahmad

Isaiah Colbert

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