Book Review: The Wandering Falcon

The Wandering FalconThe Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The Wandering Falcon is the debut novel from eighty-year old Jamil Ahmad. The book is actually more like nine loosely connected short stories than a novel. The title character, Tor Baz, appears in most every story – briefly in some and as the main focus in others. Tor Baz was born to an adulterous couple who are caught and killed when he is five years old. From that point on, he wanders from tribe to tribe, never identifying with one specific tribe. Because tribal culture is so important in this region, Tor Baz is both a suspicious and mysterious man to everyone he meets.

Each story explores some aspect of the tribal culture in the Afghan/Pakistani region in the period shortly after World War II, of which I had little knowledge before reading this book. I really appreciated learning more about the culture even if I could not always fully understand it. Ahmad writes without judgment which made the stories even more fascinating to me. Ahmad’s prose is stark but even so I found his characters, especially the women, haunting. The ending gave me chills (in a good way).

The story behind how this book came to be published is just as interesting as the book itself. Ahmad worked for many decades as a civil servant in Pakistan. He wrote the first draft of The Wandering Falcon in the 1970s and put it away. In 2008, his brother convinced him to enter it in a writing competition. Eventually it made its way into the hands of an editor at Penguin and the rest is history. This Guardian article has a more detailed account of events. Now The Wandering Falcon is long-listed for the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize. I hope that Jamil Ahmad keeps writing – I would love to read more from him.

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(I received this book courtesy of the publisher.)