Trials: On Death Row In Pakistan is a non-fiction book written by Scottish lawyer, Isabel Buchanan. It chronicles her time working in a new legal chamTrials: On Death Row In Pakistan is a non-fiction book written by Scottish lawyer, Isabel Buchanan. It chronicles her time working in a new legal chamber in Lahore, Pakistan under the watchful eye of a young and forceful Pakistani lawyer, Sarah Belal, who has made it her life's mission to defend those condemned to death row in Pakistan. It follows the stories of several condemned inmates, short biographies of the other employees at Sarah's chambers and tales of controversial blasphemy and unjust laws.
I studied Postcolonial Literature in my undergrad so this isn't a text that I felt completely unfamiliar entering but my studies also presented a unique bias. I'm hyper aware of the Western desire to portray Pakistan and other Eastern countries as uncivilized, unfair and just plain old not as great as Anglo-American society. So I approached Trials with enthusiasm to read something different after a summer of Young Adult fiction but also with caution after a year of studying Gayatri Spivak and Edward Said.
Buchanan treads a fine line between hard-hitting evidence and enchanting storytelling in this book. The opening page is a perfect example of this as she begins with the story of a man who makes "the best chips and curry sauce" in Edinburgh. For someone with an aversion to all things legal, except maybe binge-watching Suits on Netflix, I was put at ease by the gentleness of this opening but, make no mistakes, Trials is not a light or easy read and it quickly takes a turn towards a factual hurricane. Case after case, law after law, I was thrust into a world of blasphemy, bad handwriting, and badass women. All of which were, at times, intimidating.
The badass women are the best thing about Trials. Gayatri Spivak once said: 'If, in the contest of colonial production, the subaltern has no history and cannot speak, the subaltern as female is, even more deeply in shadow.' (Spivak, Cambridge: 1999) So it was refreshing to read a book set in Pakistan that features two women at the centre fighting for a cause they believe in as opposed to being portrayed as victims. Sarah Belal is one of the coolest women I've read in literature. I've since researched Belal a little and she is just as brilliant in real life as Buchanan portrays her in Trials. She's the founder of Justice Project Pakistan which aims to serve the poorest prisoners facing the harshest punishments in the courts of law. She is incredibly intelligent and relentless in her pursuit of justice. If you don't read this book then at least google her!
Sometimes I did feel like I got lost in the legal facts so, for this reason, I wouldn't recommend it to everyone. However, I do think the stories Buchanan is telling in this book are insurmountably important. Women like Sarah Belal are who our young people should be reading about and looking up to so I'm glad Buchanan wrote this book and that I had the opportunity to read it. I'd recommend it to budding lawyers and maybe to Sixth Year pupils who are applying to study Law at University but unless you have an avid interest in the world of law or postcolonial studies, I'm not too sure this is one for the Christmas list. ...more