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The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad
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Sep 17, 11

Read in September, 2011

I have taken a number of classes on Afghanistan and Pakistan…it’s history, the people, the culture, the conflict. It continues to come down to a bottom line that these countries are tribal in nature and that unless you understand the tribal culture, you can never understand the country. Because we look at life “through our eyes” it is impossible for someone who is not “inside” the culture to see it in its entirety and to convey it authentically.

I was very happy to receive the ARC of the “The Wandering Falcon” written by Jamil Ahmad, someone who was very “inside” the tribal culture. Ahmad was a Pakistani civil servant who worked for decades in the Northwest Tribal region. His first posting was in Baluchistan. In 1970, at the urging of his wife, he began to write stories based on his experiences. The result is the fictional account of “The Wandering Falcon,” which is a collection of stories that take place in the mountainous region along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The stories’ characters are members of the nomadic tribes that are in constant flow between the high mountainous areas and the plains, as they take their sheep and goats to grazing areas. They are loosely tied together by the character of Tor Baz, a young boy who was orphaned when his parents, an adulterous couple, were killed according to tribal law when he was 5 years old. He was adopted by Baluch rebels who were fighting the Pakistani government and over time becomes the wandering falcon.

The book is small and is an easy read…and I could not put it down. It is stark and it is brutal as it describes the struggles and life of the people, the interactions between characters and the resolving of life’s issues and conflicts according to tribal law. And yet, embedded in the brutality is a beauty and an empathy for the people that creates a sense of humanity in the telling. Tribal law is something that I cannot understand. I was struck with how black and white it is. There are no gray areas. There is a clear dividing line between right and wrong and there is no hesitation in acting according to the dictates of it.

Ahmed completed the book in 1973 but no one was willing to publish it until 2008 when two young Pakistani women, a Lahore-based bookseller, Aysha Raja, and a Karachi-based columnist and editor, Faiza Sultan Khan, called on Pakistani authors to submit stories for a competition. Ahmad's younger brother insisted that he must show them his work. After reworking the 35-year-old manuscript, Ahmad sent it to Khan, who championed it, and showed it to an editor at Penguin. (source: Basharat Peer, The Guardian).

I am glad that I read the book and while I will never understand how the characters can live as they do and choose as they do, I have a greater appreciation for their life and their struggle. It has also clarified my thoughts and opinions about the Western involvement in this area. I highly recommend the book to anyone who appreciates the beautiful use of words to describe an unknown entity, which Jamil Ahmad did…beautifully!
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