"One has a duty to explore one's place in the world"

Nadeem Aslam on optimism, orthodoxy and the origins of radicalism

 

The Asia Literary Review has an illuminating interview with Nadeem Aslam, author of The Wasted Vigil and the Booker-nominated Maps for Lost Lovers. Along with a number of other writers who have focused on the question of Pakistan in their work recently, Aslam is known for wrestling with faith, fundamentalism and Muslim identity.

On the power of belief, he tells the ALR: "Not everything that is wrong in the Islamic world is the west's fault. We must understand this. In the tribal areas of Pakistan they have hijacked people's core beliefs and tried to link their brand of Islam to the true Islam."

Yet he is cautiously hopeful. "The novel essentially is an optimistic form," he says. "You cannot treat your characters too cruelly. The reader will feel a sense of betrayal. But I want to give a sense of the true complexity of life, to not lie and say life is simple."

For more on literature from Pakistan see the NS review of the "brassy, sassy, comic debut" by Mohammed Hanif, A Case of Exploding Mangoes.

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“The Hole-Up”: a poem by Matthew Sweeney

“You could taste the raw / seagull you’d killed and plucked, / the mussels you’d dug from sand, / the jellyfish that wobbled in your / hands as you slobbered it.”

Lying on your mouth and nose
on the hot sand, you recall
a trip in a boat to the island –
the fat rats that skittered about
after god-knows-what dinner,
the chubby seals staring up,
the sudden realisation that a man
on the run had wintered there
while the soldiers scoured
the entire shoreline to no avail –
you knew now you had been him
out there. You could taste the raw
seagull you’d killed and plucked,
the mussels you’d dug from sand,
the jellyfish that wobbled in your
hands as you slobbered it.
You saw again that first flame
those rubbed stones woke in
the driftwood pile, and that rat
you grilled on a spar and found
delicious. Yes, you’d been that man,
and you had to admit now you
missed that time, that life,
though you were very glad you
had no memory of how it ended.


Matthew Sweeney’s Black Moon was shortlisted for the 2007 T S Eliot Prize. His latest collection is Inquisition Lane (Bloodaxe).

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt