Friday, October 14, 2011

The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad — 256 pgs

In this loosely constructed and emotionally unwavering novel, the reader is transported across the borders of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan where the nomadic tribes of these regions live a life of brutal and uncompromising sacrifice. The story begins with the death of a couple who are travelling with a very young child. The couple, who have been attempting to flee desert justice for their ill-advised relationship, leave behind a young boy who is assimilated into a nearby tribe. As circumstances begin to revolve around the boy and his untethered companions, he soon finds himself in the company of another set of companions, and then another, ultimately becoming a solitary wanderer who finds himself in the strange position of being a member of all the tribes, but realistically, a member of none.

As Ahmad tells the stories of these desert nomads and their dying way of life, he shares the humble sacrifices and hardships of the people who make their home among the temporary camps they build in the unforgiving desert wastelands. As the wandering falcon travels the miles, he discovers that his identity and fate are inextricably tied to the tribes and learns that the nomadic way of life is nearing extinction. Both verbally sparse and atmospherically lush, The Wandering Falcon is the story of a boy turned man in the throes of an unimaginable migration that will involve both his body and his soul.

This was a book I feared I would have trouble reviewing, for while I was caught up in the story, it was harder to put my finger on the threads that held the story together once I put the book down to think on it. Though the book is described as a novel, there was a fluid style to it that made me regard it as more of a group of short stories that each featured a brief appearance of the wandering falcon. I grew more relaxed about the story when I started to think of it in this way and was better able to fully invest in it and enjoy it. Though the subject is ostensibly the titular character of the wandering falcon, this book was more of a homage to a dying and alien way of life.

A lot of the story revolved around the intricate ways of life that embody different groups of nomadic desert tribes. Due to recent changes in their countries’ laws, these nomads are finding that their movements are being increasingly restricted, particularly across national borders they have long crossed freely. These restrictions cause the tribe members to become increasingly angry and disillusioned. The groups become more and more secretive when it comes to their migration habits and patterns, and at times, this puts them at serious and deadly risk. As the wandering falcon moves from group to group, he begins to embody all that is ephemeral and free about these people and their way of life.

In small bits and pieces a more developed and nuanced picture of what life if like for these tribes begins to be revealed with cautious care and great skill. Here are fierce loyalties and decades-old feuds, survival amongst the elements and terrible retributions. As a reader who views things from a Western world perspective, the plight of these characters often seemed hostile and strange to me, even unjust at times. The casual cruelty of a man who is stoned to death seemed unremittingly foreign to me, as did the prospect of women being sold to brothels or other servitude. But even though I didn’t understand the ways of this world, I did come to see that these practices were centuries old and had become so ingrained in these societies that, after awhile, my indignation was replaced by a insatiable curiosity that had me hastening through the pages to see what would come next.

This book was very intriguing in that it shined a brilliant spotlight on a culture that even now is becoming further and further relegated to the past. It wasn’t a happy or uplifting book, that’s for sure, but where the book excels is in its exploration and understanding of the lives that hinge on concepts that are foreign to most of the world. It was a rather short book, but in its impact, it had a tremendous payoff. A very thought-provoking read.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

18 comments:

Sandy Nawrot said...

It is hard to imagine that people live like this, and is something I know next to nothing about. Not a bad return on a relatively small investment of time.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I don't think this book is for me, but I enjoyed your interesting and honest review of it!

Ti said...

One of my weaknesses as a reader is not reading enough about other cultures. I would not pick a book like this on my own but if my book club picked it, I'd read it knowing that it would be discussed fully. I guess that is something I need to work on a bit for next year.

You did a very nice job with the review.

nomadreader said...

I just heard about this book earlier this week, so this review is quite timely! It sounds so intriguing. I'm adding it to my list!

Mrs Q Book Addict said...

I love reading about other cultures, I think i'll have to keep this one in mind. Great review!

Darlene said...

I don't think this is anything I would be able to read but your thoughts do make me curios about it.

bermudaonion said...

The plight you described does seem unfair. I may not understand that way of life, but I certainly respect it. I'm intrigued by this book.

Kirsten said...

Thank you for such a thoughtful review. I am almost certain I would not have considered reading this book, or even have found it on my own. I have been lurking on your blog for some time and have found several books from your reviews. I very much enjoy them!

Jenny said...

Definitely sounds like a good way to learn about another culture but sounds like an intense read too.

Jenners said...

I can't imagine living a life like this … and I'm glad that this vanishing way of life is being captured in a book like this.

Great review … as always.

TheBookGirl said...

What an interesting subject -- I never would have thought about how tightening border restrictions would affect the movements of nomadic tribes. I'm curious what made you pick this one up?

Terrific review :)

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Very interesting - both your initial trepidation, and the way you embraced the novel (as linked stories) to fully appreciate it. Do you know anyone else who has read it (or plans to read it) ... seems like a book that's just begging to be discussed.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

For some reason this is one culture that I have not had a lot of exposure to in my reading. I should really remedy that, but I seem to be drawn to India, Japan and China for some reason when I read about places I've never been.

Thanks for sharing with us what seems to be a tough read (for me).

Nymeth said...

As Jill and others were saying, I always enjoy your review so much, even when I'm not sure the book is for me!

Lisa said...

This sounds fascinating - I love to learn about different cultures. But it's good to know the way you came to read it as a collection of short stories; would probably help me to know that going in.

Aths said...

I've been curious about this book for a while, and the only reason I passed it on, was because it was a book of short stories than a novel. I'm glad that you think highly of this book and that makes me eager to check it.

Marie said...

it sounds really thought provoking and good- like i would love it! :-)

Stacy at A Novel Source said...

What a beautiful review - thought-provoking too! Your repertoire of genres constantly intrigues me! And I always learn something just from reading your reviews. Thank you Heather.

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