Murder in the Mohalla: Aamina Ahmad’s stunning debut novel

Omar El Akkad in The New York Times:

The vacuum where consequences should be is the setting of Aamina Ahmad’s quietly stunning debut novel, “The Return of Faraz Ali” — stunning not only on account of the writer’s talent, of which there is clearly plenty, but also in its humanity, in how a book this unflinching in its depiction of class and institutional injustice can still feel so tender.

At the line level, Ahmad has a habit of wielding softness against the most grotesque scenes, giving them an intimacy anything louder would likely wash out. Early on in the story, while trying to quash a protest, Ali beats one of the young demonstrators to a pulp: “There was relief in the way the boy’s face opened up to him, its contours, its ridges caving in so easily, as if he wanted nothing more than this, as if he were being freed.”

Ahmad’s compassion and deep care for the psychological and emotional nuances of her characters never wavers, no matter how monstrous or self-interested or defeated they become. It remains as Ali suffers the punishment for refusing to follow orders: exile to eastern Pakistan on the eve of Bangladeshi independence, his bright career prospects snuffed. It remains as Ali’s sister, Rozina, once a diva of some renown, navigates the barrenness of life out of the spotlight. It extends through generations and transformations of place, all the way to a devastating final chapter, fully human, fully engaged with what makes us human, no matter the size of the wounds or the immunity of those who inflict them. The powerful might often escape consequences, Ahmad shows, but life without these is its own kind of poverty, its own miserable inheritance.

More here.