Maps for Lost Lovers – Nadeem Aslam

ordinancesurveyIn 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.

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37 Replies to “Maps for Lost Lovers – Nadeem Aslam”

    1. The cover is lovely and bright, I’d not heard of this until going through a recommendations list. It is intense and I was shaking my head a lot at some of the characters but was ultimately a read that will stay with me for a long time.

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  1. I am selfishly pleased that you are posting about books instead of The Wire today, as I haven’t seen The Wire and have nothing to add to your discussions! I was actually thinking about you yesterday because I picked up this book from a man selling books on the street on my way to lunch! I am quite pleased it was only $4, but I recall you paid even less for your copy…

    I have my usual reading projects going on right now (Pulitzers, Whitman, Infinite Jest), so I have been making an extra effort to read diversely outside of these Very White Male reading projects. (Maybe I should add a fourth more diverse reading project to my list, any suggestions?) It seems important especially nowadays to read about Muslim immigrants and to remember that indeed we are all very human!

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    1. I have finished with The Wire posts now you will be relieved to know. In fact to redress the balance this is my second book review in three days. SUch is need to remind you all I read books too! A man selling books cheap on the street, I live in the wrong area. It’s nice that you think about me and recall how much I paid for books, I have visions of you going through my receipts like a proper talker hehe.

      Not content with a 130 month challenge, you wish to add another. As for authors offhand I can think of Irene Nemirovsky is always a good choice for powerful historical drama, A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul, The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswaany, The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe, come to mind, I reviewed all except the latter if you fancy a gander.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. There is much to demand a reread in the future, bleak is indeed the word but in a rewarding way. Had it not been for the quality of the prose, this could have been a bit of a slog.

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    1. One step ahead of you, after picking the book up I read your post, it’s good to be enticed to delve into a new purchase straight away. The prose is wonderful and the way the issues are presented is fair and brutally honest, its required reading.

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        1. Spoilers ruin everything, we bloggers got to have a no spoilers code! I shall be over for a visit to yours tomorrow my friend, as usual I am so far behind with everything.

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  2. Given the times we live in, this seems like a good book to read. I love the title too! For me it conjures up – “hope in sad circumstances” (If that makes any sense!) Like Jessica, I am also selfishly pleased that them Wire posts are over. Hehe 😉

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    1. Anything that helps understanding is always a good thing. Hope in sad circumstances is actually an interesting phrase in relation to the book, I like your thinking. Usually any other reviews are kept to a post but The Wire had to be long to cover everything. If I attempt anything that big again I will make sure to put bookish things in between to make you happy.

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      1. That’s most kind of you, but I realise that deviations from the norm are nice too, because they open the mind up to new possibilities, so I will read whatever you may post 🙂
        On another note, I am having a rather slow reading month and have been stuck with one book for quite some time. I hope I am not headed into one of those dreaded reading slumps! But then reading good reviews, like this one of yours, does encourage me to get along with it, for they remind me that there are so many more great books out there to get to!

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        1. I appreciate your support, next time I will mix up any posts so I can keep it varied for all. It can be demoralising to not be able to get through a book, or even get time for a book, sometimes we just need to grind the book out so another can be started. Sometimes I wish there were less great books so I could have a chance at reading them all.

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  3. Honour killing is the most detestable form of having societal rules prevailed over every other human emotion. It is still much in vogue in Afghanistan, Pakistan and even in some parts of India. The discrimination between different tribes or even among different classes of the same community is the root of it. It needs a lot of courage to write about these things, especially when it involves Islam. (We all know what kind of treatment Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasrin have received) Kudos to the author for that.

    Thanks to you for such an incisive review. I’m adding it to my list… 🙂

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    1. Tackling the issues head on is a noble thing. Nasrin and Rushdie had the courage to face the ignorant people who can only (surprise, surprise) reply with threats of violence, best not try the peaceful tactic of debate, when has that ever helped anything?! I know you’ll appreciate all the book has to say.

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  4. Hi, Ste J! This sounds like a very interesting book, and one which I hope I will be able to find and read sometime or other. Given the lunatic challenge to Hillary Clinton from Donald Trump (which I’m fairly sure you’ve seen nearly every day in some news article or other), you won’t be surprised perhaps to know just how many people in the United States hate and fear just the name “Muslims” or “Allah” or “Islam.” Though I don’t want to be naïve-sounding, I feel when challenged about my beliefs that I have constantly to reiterate that there are good Muslims (in the sense of “good people,” not speaking of them in the way some backward and radical preachers speak of “good Christians”) and bad Muslims (in the same sense one would speak of crazy Anglo militia or etc. types, who also want to blow innocent people up). Young lovers and young love are subjects which cover, in a sense, the times and people in life who often are the best able to extend themselves or be the ground of extensions into tolerance. I do hope I can find and read your reviewed book. Ta! for now.

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    1. People will always choose to see the worst in other groups, it does come down to a lack of education about ‘the other’ and of course a lack of investigation to try to understand them, having said that all should be open to criticism, including Islam and some of the archaic practises that still go on. There is good and bad in everything and it is crazy that people just assume a whole group has the violent tendencies of a certain proportion.

      Young love usually straddles boundaries that seem unbridgeable and this book is an interesting example in a few ways. It should be a book that is findable and find it I hope you do!

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  5. Steve, you give beautiful, in-depth reviews that are always a delight to read. This book sounds interesting and one that I may have to read when time allows.

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    1. I do my best my friend, I am glad you like my words, I do slave over them from anywhere between one and a half to three hours so it is good to be reminded that people enjoy them, not that I doubted it from ym wonderful regulars who I know would tell me if I were to start slipping in my standards. Time, such an annoying thing, I hope it is kind to you my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I admit I must try reading books like this to get more insights, no matter fictional, of how many countries are. I miss reading this blog! As always, a nice and detailed review, Ste!

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    1. Fiction like this is so close to reality that there is hardly a difference, it’s certainly an eye opener in some respects. The blog misses you too, welcome back!

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  7. The term “honor killings” gave me goosebumps.. but I recognize that sometimes we have to read things we are less than comfortable with in order to learn more about the world around us. Thank you for having such a broad reading list for us here as it really does open our minds up to new concepts.

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    1. I picked it up with a sense of foreboding, I was familiar with a lot a of the things that happen in such communities and I didn’t want to get to like a character who would then have horrible things happen to them, it’d be traumatic. However it was well worth reading, not as bad as my imagination conjured and encouraged me to keep reading such books. I love broadening my reading and sharing, it’s a joy to do and it always surprises me too.

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