Monday, 16 June 2014


The Blind Man’s Garden
Nadeem Aslam

ISBN 978-0-571-28794-9

Pakistan – contemporary times, with young, passionate angry men who see their country, and neighbouring Afghanistan being invaded by westerners, infidels who are putting the very fabric of the Islamic faith in danger.  So sets the scene for this book that is not a book of war or terror, but one of internal struggles, both personal and political. And, as everywhere in the world, we enter a world of love, family standards and expectations, and simple yearning for the things that can’t be attained when young.

The story has three strains running through it. Firstly, Mikal and Jeo cross the border to Afghanistan into the war zone, for totally different reasons. Then we have Jeo’s father’s experiences whilst left at home, with fundamentalists threatening to undermine all his life’s work, while his past is a constant torment to him. Finally, we are witness to a love triangle that is doomed from the very first words on the page.  

So why does this seemingly run of the mill love triangle novel work? Because it isn’t! The Islam religion comes into play, Pakistani senses of honour and family standards are cleverly mixed in. It becomes a mental battle for my western upbringing and ways of living. The same should be said for the passages that follow the two men across the border. Their thinking patterns are expressed as the men of that part of the world would be expected to think. The western forces are trying to impose their will on the traditional way of life, and these men, and many others like them, are resisting. It does make for some uncomfortable reading in parts, not in any particular violent way, but perhaps with the realisation that all the propaganda we in the west are given about the conflict and the men concerned are not entirely with a firm basis. It does challenge our thinking.

Finally, what must it be like having self confessed terrorist in the neighbourhood? To not believe in their actions and motives, but unable to act in a decisive way to stop it must be difficult indeed. As the story progresses, it is instinctive to think that everything will be fine in the end, but you will constantly be reminded that you are viewing events from the ‘other side of the fence.’

Written in a crisp, fast paced fashion, it does have a certain ‘un-putdownability’ about it; we are always left with an urge to know what happens next. Don’t expect an easy read though; as I say, it will challenge all the perceptions and ideals that the average westerner is brought up with. I do say that with all due respect to those of the Islamic faith and upbringing. It has certainly made me realise that as with all people of the world, we all just want to do what we believe is right for our own family. And that is quite right too!

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