New Aslam

Yesterday’s pile of mail brought with it a copy of Nadeem Aslam’s new novel The Wasted Vigil, which is set in Afghanistan. If the words “set in Afghanistan” make you fear that this is simply a quick, topical, realist book that attempts to cash in on current interest in the region, you may be interested to read Pankaj Mishra’s essay about the novel in the New York Review of Books:

Certainly, if these readers feel that “what contemporary writers perceive and say is in some fundamental way divorced from reality,” it is because few novels in the years preceding 2001 manifested an awareness of the events that have led up to our tormented present.

Given this lack of predecessors Nadeem Aslam’s new novel is an audacious panorama, seeking as it does to encapsulate several national histories as well as the overlapping destinies of individuals caught up in apparently disparate events. A quick survey of its spacious historical terrain—Russian brutality in Afghanistan and Chechnya, Muslim fundamentalism in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the war on terror and the American recourse to torture, and the resurgence of al-Qaeda and the Taliban in post–September 11 Afghanistan—makes us initially suspect that the novel is as noisy and sprawling as it is aggressively topical. Yet Aslam manages to describe the lives of his many characters, and their illusions and despair, with consummate skill.

The article is available to subscribers only, unfortunately. Take a look here.