Jennifer's Reviews > The Wasted Vigil

The Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam
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Jan 20, 12

Read from January 13 to 21, 2012

I think Aslam's major point in this novel is the danger of fanaticism. The main characters are representatives of fanatical regimes, hated by, or distorted by their own hatred of the Afghans. Aslam slowly lulls the reader into a heightened sensitivity with his patient and poetic observations of the habits of butterflies or the patterns of leaves on the wind, or religious stories of myth, innocence and beauty, then whaps him with an act of unimaginable brutality, performed by these regimes.
No culture is immune to the blocking out of their own humanity through fanaticism, and one of the most reasonable characters in the novel - an American named David, perpetrates an act of omission, apparently causing the murder of the former lover of the woman he fancies, out of his love for her, giving no thought to the thousands of other innocent lives he could have saved if he had chosen to act.
In the end, by his intimate and loving portrayals of brutality, indifference to suffering and torture, Aslam leaves the reader with a strong sense of the complete unacceptability of governments and individuals who block their perceptions of human suffering because they have a view of a broader goal which they judge as more important.
The concentration is not on the characters or the plausibility of the plot, and a harsher judge could find these wanting, but I forgive it for its other virtues. The style is simple and contemplative, and Aslam is balanced enough in his observations, and complex enough in his understandings that he is not averse to describing with joyful delight the love of Islam for flowers and its close observations of the beauty of birds, side by side with the playing of soccer with a corpse, or the brutalisation of a child by the same observers.
This is a wise work of some depth, though I personally am preoccupied with character and consequence, and would have been more interested in a deeper observation of the effects of these acts of hypocrisy and brutality on the perpetrators, rather than the simple observations that even apparently innocent children and good people can commit acts of unspeakable evil.

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Kathryn Jennifer, did you realise that Marcus'grandson is the jihadi who arrives at his house? David and the boy both mention a scene with balls of wool falling down the stairs. The irony of not recognising the family they search and long for seems to me a central point of the book: we are all connected, no matter how different we seem, yet we do these terrible things to each other.


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