Dangerous Fictions: A Pakistani Novelist Tests the Limits

Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker:

HanifHanif got the idea of writing about a nurse in a decrepit hospital. Alice Bhatti (named for his old editor) is a ferociously strong young woman: smart, independent, and rebellious to the point of recklessness. She works as a nurse in the Sacred Heart Hospital for All Ailments, a shambling Catholic institution in Karachi that is corrupt, underfunded, and horrifyingly filthy: rats make nests of human hair; gunnysacks filled with body parts sit in a corner. Alice is Christian, the daughter of a faith healer, from a Christian slum called the French Colony, where Jesus is known as “Lord Yassoo.” She comes from a family of “sweepers,” or janitors, a job performed overwhelmingly by Christians. At the hospital, Alice sees the most vicious tendencies of Karachi—murders and molestations that go unreported, bodies that go unclaimed. She freely mocks the Islamic faith, in concert with her father, who warns her, “These Muslas will make you clean their shit and then complain that you stink.” More than anything, Alice is determined to defend herself from an endless wave of insults and assaults:

There was not a single day—not a single day—when she didn’t see a woman shot or hacked, strangled or suffocated, poisoned or burnt, hanged or buried alive. Suspicious husband, brother protecting his honour, father protecting his honour, son protecting his honour, jilted lover avenging his honour, feuding farmers settling their water disputes, moneylenders collecting their interest: most of life’s arguments, it seemed, got settled by doing various things to a woman’s body.

When a wealthy patient’s relative tries to force Alice to perform oral sex, she slashes his genitals with a razor and dispatches him to the emergency room. “Go to Accidents. And no need to be shy, they get lots of this sort of thing during their night shift,” she says. “And stop screaming.”

More here.