Friday, April 16, 2010

Book # 1 - In the City by the Sea

'In the City by the Sea' was the first book that Kamila Shamsie wrote and the first book of my 15days/books/blog challenge.

I have read other works of Shamsie which include Kartography, Burnt Shadows and Broken Verses. Even though she rose to fame with her book Kartography, it is Broken Verses which I like best. Burnt Shadows, her latest piece of work, is a wonderful read also. Among the many books written by Pakistani authors on 9/11, this is by far the most creatively written.

The book, 'In the City by the Sea', is based on the events in the country under dictatorial military rule. The reader gets an idea of the situation in the city through the eyes of the 11 year old protagonist Hasan whose maternal uncle, Salman Haq, is a politician. Haq is a threat to the military regime and is under house arrest when the author introduces him to the reader.

Hasan is the only son of an artist mother (who owns an art gallery) and a lawyer father (obsessed with etymology). The plot revolves around the ordeal the family goes through, especially young Hasan, when Salman Haq is imprisoned by the military government and stands trial. Hasan wants to rescue his uncle and is willing to go to any length yet he also understands his incapacity to actually put any of his plans into action.

The dilemmas and frustrations of Hasan's age are captured brilliantly. Although no city is mentioned, this book is based on Karachi, Pakistan's city by the sea. It covers many aspects of our culture; kite flying, rituals at someone's death, and our 'desi chai' or morning tea to name a few.

The prose has almost a lyrical quality to it which made the book a pleasant read. Shamsie has a way of saying the most complex things in the most simple ways. Following is an excerpt from her book in which Salman Haq gives Hasan a brief tutorial on dictators.

'No. no. All countries need dolphins, Hasan. But the General, our self-exalted leader, well, I've seen the way he operates. If he saw people in a hut drawing together to view a dolphin, he would shoot the dolphin dead. Then he'd plant clues to suggest to each person that someone else in the hut had pulled the trigger, and when the accusations turned to violence and everyone was intent on ducking and throwing punches, he would sneak out and sell the carcass for a handsome profit. The worst part is, before long some of the people in that hut would become dolphin killers themselves. And Huss, I don't think I could live in a world without dolphins'.