Book Reviews

Book Review: 'The Wandering Falcon'

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The Wandering Falcon is a collection of short fiction from Jamil Ahmad. Ahmad is an 80-year-old former Pakistani government official who is making his debut in fiction.

MELISSA BLOCK, host: The region where Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran meet is often in the news. It's a slice of land and culture that seems to confound the West. Well, perhaps fiction can help.

Jamil Ahmad is a former Pakistani government official who worked with a variety of tribal groups in the region. Now 80, he makes his debut as a fiction writer with a collection of stories set there.

Alan Cheuse has a review of "The Wandering Falcon."

ALAN CHEUSE: Jamil Ahmad takes us to the high desert and mountains of a region crisscrossed by hundreds of nomadic tribes for thousands of years. We read of lovers fleeing the deadly punishment of their tribal group, of women desperate for affection, buried under customs and habits millenniums old, of men of honor living lives of crime, of tribal members returning from exile who must carefully navigate each clan and sub-clan in order to stay honorable and sometimes to stay alive.

Most of the nine roughly connected chapters of this narrative - one can't really call it a carefully shaped novel - partake of the power of myth and give back to the reader the ambiguities of antique culture alive and well in the world of contemporary national borders.

Muse meets the news, you might think of it as, because these tribes still gather in this region to this day, trying to eek out a traditional living amidst what has now become in some places a mechanized battlefield. So here's the exotic melded with the practical and everyday, the brute force of ancient justice linked to the ambiguities of modern politics.

And Ahmad's voice, like that of an old storyteller of which he writes addressing an intertribal conclave about the consequences of a kidnapping. Ahmad's voice is usually clear and sharp like the sound of plucked strings from a musical instrument.


BLOCK: The book is "The Wandering Falcon" by Jamil Ahmad. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

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