In an unnamed English town, Jugnu and his lover Chanda have disappeared. Rumours abound in the close-knit Pakistani community and then, on a snow-covered January morning, Chanda’s brothers are arrested for murder. Telling the story of the next twelve months, Maps for Lost Lovers opens the heart of a family at the crossroads of culture, community, nationality and religion.
Wrapped in some gorgeous prose, Maps for Lost lovers demands discussion. It’s a daring book, one that attempts to make Muslims as well as migrants in general more human than they are often portrayed by the media. Not only does Aslam tackle the unpalatable parts of Islam but also shows a community’s response to an all too real tragedy.
The central theme of the book is the disgusting practise of so-called ‘honour killings’ and how they impact on a close knit group, yet there is so much more to this melancholy story, exploring love, desperation, loneliness, seclusion and loss in everyday life, far from their homeland and extended family.
The meeting of modern thinking against the traditional, all to the backdrop of an alien cultural experience is; for both the characters and for readers thought-provoking. Such ideas in close proximity should be brought to the fore and as the world is getting smaller and the time for debate and understanding of each other is immediate.
The chosen isolation of some Muslim groups is troubling, insularity leads to misunderstanding, fear and control over the uneducated. The characters motivations for coming to England are explored and with well-rounded personalities with plenty of depth, even the least likeable of the main players have their moments. Each is seen showing doubt over aspects of their beliefs (be they religious or ethical), especially those which are blatantly biased in favour of men and relegate women to being merely property.
The unease felt by the immigrants and their defensiveness and willingness to see the bad in their neighbouring cultures is a neat mirror imaging of the local inhabitants of the northern town they reside in. The closely isolated society is as racist as the local whites people can be, in a neat balancing act this is shown by the woman whose son feels he can walk to the mosque alone so she phones up all the people she knows on the way to keep an eye on him because ‘every day you hear about depraved white men doing unspeakable things to little children’. Yet a similar fate awaits many young girls as an accepted part of their own belief system.
Chosen segregation and lack of education are changing though, as a new generation comes through but is that because they are westernised and having their culture diluted and is that a good thing as the book seems to portray? The children in this book are the most interesting. they have the tug of centuries old tradition on one side and the modern outlook and freedoms of this era on the other. Sometimes the stunning hypocrisy of the older generation and their interpretation of Islam makes the flouting of the rules they espouse faintly ridiculous, whereas he children are judged by what it is to be a good Muslim through he rules of the very same Koran the parent follow.
The story does have some brutal stuff in it and as we all aware, this goes on far too much and needs to be confronted, yet for all the tragedy there is love whether it be misguided or blind, permeating the narrative. It’s an honest and unflinching overview but rather than just focus on the Muslim beliefs it makes a wider point of reminding the reader of their own thoughts and traditions and to look at the impacts those have with a critical eye.
I do feel there could have been more balance, the picture we are painted is of a community that is rife with gossip and violence, it’s all a bit too bleak and we needed to see occasional flashes of the good things, the happy times and acts of selfless kindness. This book does its best to remind is that we are all indeed human with hopes, caught up in systems which sometimes we need to transcend in order to attain something more for ourselves and our families.
I expected this book to be a lot more of a challenge, my preconceptions made the first fifty or so pages a real test despite its lyrical style but once I got into it, the pages flew by. Despite knowing a bit about Islam, through reading I gained a far deeper perspective and because of its many topical issues, the intrepid reader will be rewarded for their effort.