- Paperback: 296 pages
- Publisher: Speaking Tiger; Latest Edition edition (5 October 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9386050307
- ISBN-13: 978-9386050304
- Package Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.4 x 2 cm
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,82,149 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Season for Martyrs Paperback – 5 Oct 2016
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‘A season for Martyrs by Bina Shah is a brilliant book which tells the history of Sindh, a province of Pakistan. She mixes myth with history and the personal with the political. She presents picture of Sindh by narrating past with its entire glorious spiritual, cultural and political heritage’.—Free Press Journal
About the Author
Bina Shah is a Pakistani writer and commentator who writes a monthly column for Dawn, the top English-language newspaper in Pakistan. Specializing in Pakistani and Muslim women’s rights, girls’ education and Pakistani society and culture, she also writes regularly for the New York Times and is a frequent guest on the BBC. She has contributed essays to Granta, Al Jazeera, The Independent, The Huffington Post and The Guardian. She holds degrees from Wellesley College and the Harvard Graduate School of Education and is an alumna of the University of Iowa’s International Writers’ Workshop. Her novel Slum Child was a bestseller in Italy and she has been published in English, Spanish, French, Danish, Chinese, Vietnamese and Italian. She lives in Karachi.
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The novel goes back and forth between chapters that try to explain ancient history of Sindh, its Sufi traditions, and modern political development. Both stories merge in the end.
If you are someone who doesn’t know a lot about history of Pakistan or Sindh, it might be hard for you to follow and keep track of the story. However, someone who has some context when it comes to history and politics of Pakistan, you will enjoy reading it.
While it is impossible to encompass all of the social and perspective-based impressions from the characters, Shah does present an attitude that is based in both tribal, cultural and religious beliefs, and thoroughly steeped in the history of the people. Pakistan is a ‘cobbled’ country, established in 1947 after the British East India company was ousted (or left, depending on perspective) releasing their stranglehold on India and the surrounding areas. Essentially what emerged was a bit of religious migration with Muslims congregating in what would become Pakistan and the Sikh and Hindi heading to India. To this day – there are fractured families and tensions between the variant religious factions in both India and Pakistan. As with most colonialized areas, those in power (i.e. the west) never really was cognizant or cared about the history and political climate, as the colonization was simply for material gain. This has led to current uprisings, unrest and injustices – possibly even stretching further back into time.
So, with a bit of background, Shah’s story is gripping and engaging – full of political fact and perspective from ‘on the ground’ in her character Ali. Ali is a reporter with the news, and he shares a similar background with Bhutto: both are from feudal zamindar (aristocratic) families from the Sindh community, although Bhutto’s father was more of a populist and at odds with the majority attitudes of his community. That his daughter would adopt and promulgate those views, and rise to the highest political office available in a rigidly Muslim state, as a woman, is nothing short of miraculous. Ali’s career choices are much more accepted: both as a man and one of his elevated family history. But all is not as it seems: Ali is in love with a Hindi woman, a travesty and potentially life-threatening danger in the uncertain times. With a fractured relationship with his father and his family, and questions surrounding the true aims of Benazir Bhutto and her return from exile, he’s make efforts to emigrate to the United States, yet another secret in his ever increasing cache.
All is not about Ali and his struggles though, as Shah also details the events leading to Bhutto’s return from exile, and the not insubstantial controversies from both supporters and detractors. So many elements are in play in this story, yet Shah manages to keep people straight and explain traditional beliefs, family ties and that history without it becoming overwhelming. There are plenty of things to keep straight, and at first it does feel a touch overwhelming, but Shah’s writing is smooth and she adds nuance and never talks “down” to her readers. More compelling than an utterly twisted mystery with multiple suspects, Shah draws you in and provides a bit more understanding of the people and what is important to them, and possibly you will find some common ground. Far more informative than any 3 minute ‘news story’ could ever present, I closed the book feeling I understood the country and its climate just a tiny bit more – and that is really the best thing that could happen.
In some ways, this was an introductory course in modern Pakistani politics that reads like a fictional novel: compelling, emotional and most of all engaging the reader to see and experience the world through another’s eyes.
I was provided a paperback copy of the title from Media Muscle for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Both come from the same family of feudal zamindars of the Sindh community. Benazir Bhutto's father took his political leanings far and established a party which was at odds with the feelings of his community. He was for the common man, he sought land distribution (which did not go down too well with the people who owned land), he also sought the upliftment of the common man. For this he paid the ultimate price. His daughter took up the political baton and was set to make wide sweeping changes. That this could happen in an orthodox Muslim country was in itself a massive story. That it actually happened is the fact.
Ali's life is also complicated. Involved in a love affair with a Hindu girl which in itself was a no no from both sides he knows that the chances of this love affair reaching its goal is almost impossible. His story that his father is dead just to avoid scandal is also not helping him or his family. His father has taken a second wife and moved away - he not acknowledging his father's existence is causing him more heartbreak than he imagined. The relationship between father and children has been distant and Ali as a young man is now feeling its absence the most. Ali has also secretly applied for a visa to the US and when this gets known to his family he is treated with suspicion because he did not disclose this to them. Trying to reconcile his personal life with the professional is also hard for Ali. He supports Benazir Bhutto but at the same time is skeptical about her aims. The corruption charges against the Bhuttos has not gone away and he is aware as do most of Pakistan of their enormous wealth both in Pakistan and abroad and he wonders how this came about.
The story then shifts to Bhutto's planned arrival in Pakistan and the events that preceded it. The dismissal of the Chief Justice and the breakdown of law and order was huge at the time as other than bringing in the military hard, there was no way for Musharaff to stay in power. Like most autocratic regimes the army was brutal and the death toll and the missing toll was very heavy.
A story of personal lives and political turmoil combined, alongside a fascinating slice of history and the development of a country goes alongside each other in this book.