Little Murders

“Maps for Lost Lovers” by Nadeem Aslam reviewed in The New York Times by Akash Kapur:

Maps_1 FROM Adam on, exile has been man’s (and God’s) cruelest punishment. ”An exile’s life is no life,” lamented Leonidas, the ancient Greek poet. Dante, banished from Florence, described the pain in more concrete terms. ”You will leave everything you love most,” he warns in ”The Divine Comedy.” ”You will know how salty / another’s bread tastes.” Indeed, although it’s in the English Midlands, the town in Aslam’s novel can resemble a transplanted Pakistani village, its language and customs and religion more or less intact. It is a place where ancestral feuds and gossip are carried over from the homeland, where the diktats of clerics supersede English common law and arranged marriages are the norm.

For Kaukab, as for the multitude of other characters in this intricately populated novel, the alienation of exile is felt as a longing not so much for the homeland as for a simpler, more general sense of human connection. Even within their cultural cocoon, the inhabitants of Dasht-e-Tanhaii are hopelessly estranged — husbands from wives, parents from children. Neighbors, quick to seize on the smallest transgressions of tradition, malign one another with cruel innuendo. While Aslam will inevitably be compared to Monica Ali and Hanif Kureishi, two other authors who have chronicled the lives of South Asian Muslims in England, the psychological and emotional core of his novel is closer to that of Golding’s ”Lord of the Flies.” In both novels, a tight-knit community is marooned in a distant corner of the world, caught in a spiral of violence and vindictiveness.

In an interview with a British newspaper, Aslam said that ”Maps for Lost Lovers” is, in part, a response to the events of Sept. 11, and that he was inspired to ”condemn the small-scale Sept. 11’s that go on every day.” Aslam’s real talent is on display when he ventures into his characters’ minds, showing the nuances of their struggles to hold onto God and describing their battles to escape what Joseph Conrad called ”the exile of utter unbelief.”

More here.