Interview: Fatima Bhutto, Author Of 'The Shadow Of The Crescent Moon' Fatima Bhutto is a member of one of the most famous families in Pakistan. Her novel The Shadow of the Crescent Moon is about Pakistan's remote tribal regions, where loyalties are very divided.
NPR logo

In Bhutto's 'Crescent Moon,' Pakistan 'Demands A Sacrifice From Its People'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/395065248/396976024" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
In Bhutto's 'Crescent Moon,' Pakistan 'Demands A Sacrifice From Its People'

In Bhutto's 'Crescent Moon,' Pakistan 'Demands A Sacrifice From Its People'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/395065248/396976024" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Fatima Bhutto has been writing about divided loyalties. Bhutto was a member of one of the most famous families in Pakistan. That family has produced two prime ministers and a relative who became president. Her latest book explores people who feel alienated from her country. Pakistan's national flag includes a white crescent moon against a green background. And when Bhutto wrote a novel about Pakistan's remote tribal regions, she called it "The Shadow Of The Crescent Moon."

FATIMA BHUTTO: In the novel, it refers to the Pakistani flag that flies over this part of the country that has always felt separate from the nation, that has always felt separate from the center, and how the shadow of that moon never wanes, how it always remains, no matter what you do to try to free yourself from it.

INSKEEP: Fatima Bhutto has personal reasons to feel alienated. Her father was murdered years ago. Bhutto suspected members of her own powerful family have a role in that killing. Today in her early 30s, she remains a member of Pakistan's elite, a journalist and a writer. But in this novel, she explores the lives of three brothers who are far from any elite. They live in a real life city called Mir Ali. It's in the mountainous area near Afghanistan. That's a rebellious region, known mainly to Americans for sheltering extremist groups. Fatima Bhutto writes of people driven less by radical Islam than by a desire for independence. They never fully accepted being part of their country to begin with.

BHUTTO: It's a part of the country that has always been removed in some ways from the rest. And they have suffered especially over the last 15 years since the war on terror really because this is where the drone wars have been focused. This is where Pakistani military strikes have been focused. And an entire region no longer exists except in the news. It no longer has the ability to live freely and as they would wish because they have become the epicenter of something dangerous.

INSKEEP: We've heard about these tribal zones as being on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan as not quite entirely belonging to either country. But you bring out a community where people also seem to have their own almost nationalistic identity. It's almost as if in their minds they belong to some third country that's not on any map.

BHUTTO: (Laughter) Well, you see that across Pakistan, actually. If you come to Sindh, the province that I live in, where I'm from, people identify very strongly as Sindhis with their own language and their own history. If you go to the Punjab, people identify very strongly as Punjabis. And this has been a question for Pakistan. What does it mean to be Pakistani? Are you a Pakistani first? Or are you a Pakistani second, or even third, now that people are identifying along religious lines as well?

INSKEEP: Is it normal what you describe a community here that has army troops everywhere, tanks everywhere? You have truckloads of soldiers at the gates of the university and other signs, really strong signs of this state clamping down?

BHUTTO: It didn't used to be normal, but unfortunately, it is becoming normal in more and more places. If you go to Balochistan, for example, that's something you would see. If you go to certain parts of the tribal areas, again, that's something you would see. And what we've been noticing, those of us who live in other parts of the country, is that violence has become so ordinary now that you just learn to live around it, whether you're in Karachi or, in fact, Mir Ali.

INSKEEP: You describe three brothers. One of them has lost a loved one in a tragedy which gets explained as the novel goes on. One of them got out of the country for a while and went to America. One of them, it becomes clear, is a member of an underground group. But it seems that all of them have divided loyalties, loyalties to their community, loyalties to the state, loyalties to their family. They're pulled every which way.

BHUTTO: Well, this is a country of divided loyalties, and it's also a country of sacrifices. Pakistan is a country that demands a sacrifice from its people. The question is just, where will the sacrifice come from? Will you sacrifice yourself, your own life or your comfort? Or do you sacrifice a fidelity to an idea or to a people in order to survive? And I don't know if that's specific to Pakistan. I think any violent place demands a certain amount of sacrifice from its people.

INSKEEP: I should mention that Pakistan has been somewhat out of the American news simply because there has been so much worse news from quite a few other countries in the region. And I'd like to know your sense of it that you can pass on to Americans. Do you feel that your country is in any way on an upward trajectory right now?

BHUTTO: Sadly, no. If you're looking at Pakistan recently, you will know that we've executed almost - I think it's 50 people at last count through hangings since the death penalty was reinstated. The government just recently banned WordPress. So that joins YouTube and something like 20,000 other websites that are now banned.

INSKEEP: Oh, WordPress, that's basically a blogging space is what's been banned.

BHUTTO: Yes, exactly. You are constantly having to deal with things like what happens in "Shadow Of The Crescent Moon." Do you go to the mosque with all your family? Is it safe? Can your children to school? Will they come back from school? So it's become a more dangerous country, but also a sadder country in recent months. And I don't - I feel sad to say it, but I don't really see things improving anytime soon.

INSKEEP: Fatima Bhutto's novel is called "The Shadow Of The Crescent Moon." Thanks very much.

BHUTTO: Thank you.

INSKEEP: And we have some news from the mountainous region that Fatima Bhutto described. It's an update on Pakistan's long-running effort to regain control of the region called North Waziristan. Last year, Pakistan's army launched an assault there. It was an effort to clear out insurgents linked with the Taliban and al-Qaida. The military operation forced hundreds of thousands of people to leave their homes. They have spent the past nine months mostly in refugee camps. This week, small numbers began returning to their villages. Pakistan is allowing them to go back as long as they pledge loyalty to the central government.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.