Nadeem Aslam: The Golden Legend

Nadeem Aslam is at the top of the list of my favourite authors. This interview has just been posted on the ABC Radio website.

“If you don’t like my books, you won’t like me. I am my books”.
Nadeem Aslam on his latest novel The Golden Legend, inspired by Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.


Nadeem Aslam on blasphemy laws in Pakistan:

If you go to the police and say, this person who lives next to me, or a friend of mine, or just this stranger has said something rude about Mohammed. You’re not allowed to repeat what it was. Because then you too would have committed blasphemy. This is such a Kafkaesque situation.

So the people are on death row and nobody’s allowed to say what they actually did.


Interview is from here:

The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam

The Golden Legend is another exquisitely written novel by Nadeem Aslam.

An enthralling view into a world of politics, religion, persecution, corruption, love, loyalty, and extremism. A story of  violence and tenderness, love and fear, hope and despair, in a nation wracked by political and religious inconsistencies.

There are times throughout my reading year when I need to sit down with a “page-turner”, a book impossible to put down. A book I can finish in a couple of sittings.

This book is not one of those – it can’t be rushed. It needs to be savoured, not only to enjoy the richness of the writing, but to absorb the realities it explores. It takes us into a world contrasting significantly from the familiar western reality most of us take for granted, a place where political and religious allegiances, no matter loosely held, can make daily life precarious depending upon the opportunistic agendas of others .

Nadeem Aslam

Nadeem Aslam is among my favourite writers. I recently started reading his new book The Golden Legend.

The first of his novels that I read was The Blind Man’s Garden – and that got me hooked. Below is a video in which Aslam talks about The Blind Man’s Garden and gives some insight into his writing process.


See here for my thoughts about The Blind Man’s Garden written as I read it:


The Wasted Vigil, Nadeem Aslam

wasted vigilI’m writing this before I’ve finished the book, because Nadeem Aslam’s The Wasted Vigil is book that I don’t want to end. I want to write something about it now before I face the disappointment of reaching the last page.

 There have been books I’ve read recently that I haven’t wanted to put down, that I read at every opportunity until I finished them. This one is different. It isn’t a gripping page-turner to be consumed like fast food, it’s something I want to savour – and enjoy for as long as possible.

 Two years ago my wife took me to lunch on my birthday. We ate at a cafe attached to a commercial art gallery. Both of us ordered vegetable lasagne, and were initially disappointed when the meal was served. It seemed tiny in comparison to our expectations – and apart from a small quenelle of pesto on top, a small rectangle of lasagne was all that was on the plate. There wasn’t even a token garnish of lettuce leaves.

But as soon as we had the first taste,  all disappointment vanished. Every mouthful was rich with the flavours of roasted capsicum, eggplant, zucchini and sun dried tomato, with an occasional burst of pesto…

…but this is not about food. I mentioned that because reading this book gives me the same kind of rich experience, full of different flavours.

quote 1 Set in Afghanistan some time after George W Bush made it the focus of his war on terror, the book sweeps across the country’s turbulent history, throughout which  local war lords and foreign invaders have preyed on the population.  Only the source of oppression or hardship changes: warlords, Russians, The Taliban/Al Qaeda and the United States all have the same kind of  effect on the people, creating fear through the threat of death, disability or even hell’s fire.

The main characters in the book are representative of the major powers of recent Afghan history. All of them are brought together for various reasons in the house of an English doctor who moved to Afghanistan decades before after falling in love with (and marrying) an Afghan woman, also a doctor.

 There’s a Russian woman searching for information about her brother who went missing after trying to defect while he was part of the Russian occupying force in the 80s; a former CIA agent who was part of US involvement with Afghan warlords opposing the Russian occupiers; and then there’s a young man devoted to the Taliban and Al Qaeda who needs to take refuge (hiding his true identity) when he is mistakenly seen to be a traitor by his fellow terrorists.

 This strange collection of “housemates” allows the author to give a vivid and disturbing look at the plight of average Afghan people and the ongoing suffering under several regimes and the various conflicts waged around them.

quote 2The author gets into the minds of each character so that the reader can “understand” what motivates them. The young terrorist is a particularly interesting example, as we are shown how his corrupted world view has been shaped by religiously motivated misinformation to create a hatred for anyone not taking the extreme path that has been instilled into him from childhood.  (Did you know that the Americans have always hated Islam so much that they even assassinated their Moslem President” Ibraheem Lankan”?)

The book presents many heartbreakingly cruel and violent incidents that the western mind would find hard to understand: especially that such things could be officially sanctioned, or at least tolerated, not only by the Taliban, but also, when politically expedient, by the Russians and Americans. But although very disturbing to the reader, those incidents are not treated graphically or gratuitously. Its not the physical horror being highlighted, but the human cost.

 It is a beautifully written, intellectually stimulating book with a compelling story, vivid in imagery and touching multiple senses while stirring the conscience. It ought to be read by every politician potentially in the position of committing troops to conflicts in foreign place.




Fictional Discoveries and a Memoir or Two

Looking back through this year’s reading list I find that I’ve discovered (and rediscovered) several authors that I’d love to read again. I’ve added their other books to my wishlist.

Starting at the beginning of the year the discoveries have included:

Joan Aiken – a good way to start the year. Although I first read her Wolves of Willoughby Chase at the end of last year, it was the next book, Blackhearts in Battersea that really won me over. I soon bought the remaining books of the “Wolves” series and started working my way through them. The books are a fun alternative history, using rich and amusing language and could be seen as a precursor to the “Steam Punk” genre.

David Mitchell – I’d read Black Swan Green a couple of years ago and finally got around to reading Cloud Atlas, an inventive and highly readable book spanning various time periods using language and writing formats relevant to each era (including those of the future). It also has a very interesting structure   . Mitchell is an excellent interview subject and I’ve  enjoyed hearing several recorded interviews I was able to track down via google.

Salman Rushdie was someone I struggled with when I read The Satanic Verses, but his memoir, Joseph Anton was compelling from the first page. During the reading of this, when I reached the part where he described the writing of his first children’s book, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, I took a short time-out to read that book. Its dedication to his son Zafar has to be one of the most poignant pieces of writing I’ve come across.

Zadie Smith is someone I initially gave up on. Her first book White Teeth is one of the very few books I’ve abandoned since I started my reading list a few years ago. But she won me over through a few recorded interviews I listened to and I gave her writing another go and enjoyed The Autograph Man and Changing My Mind. Like David Mitchell she is an intelligent and articulate interview subject. Eventually I’ll give White Teeth another try, but not until I’ve read her most recent book NW.

Nadeem Aslam – clearly there’s a trend to be seen here. Yet another I was inspired to read after hearing a radio interview. I could listen to him for hours. The interview related to his most recent book The Blind Man’s Garden, a non-partisan story about the effects of the “War on Terror” in Afghanistan. A genuinely sensual book, with vivid use of all of the senses to portray  convincing  experiences shared by a community affected by an imposed war.

Hilary Mantel – did I mention the trend? Should I point out yet another radio interview connection? Hearing her talk about her work led me to her memoir Giving Up the Ghost, and back to her fiction. I’d previously read Wolf Hall and now have the sequel Bring Up the Bodies on my “to be read” list.

There are some others on this year’s list I could mention, but they aren’t exactly new discoveries (or rediscoveries) more like old acquaintances who I can trust to give me an entertaining read.

But before I close this post I can’t afford to leave out Kate Atkinson. Started Early Took My Dog is the first novel of hers that I’ve read and I’m confident it won’t be the last. It has an intriguing plot alternating between two time periods (1975 and the ‘present’). There are multiple characters who are slowly shown to be connected to each in some way, drawn together by events and actions of the past. I haven’t finished it yet, so hopefully the conclusion will match what I’ve read so far.

Throughout this post I’ve mentioned recorded interviews with authors. Some of the best sites I’ve found for interviews are:

“Things became terrible while you were dead”

Lyrical, lush and poetic in descriptions of both beauty and horror, the book rings with  honesty, moving the reader through a range of emotions without a hint of manipulation.

nadeen aslamThat is how I described Nadeem Aslam’s The Blind Man’s Garden after reading the first 100 pages. And the description remains relevant now that I’ve finished the book.

The title of this post comes from a part of the dialogue between two characters and conveys the fragility and uncertainty of life caused by the invasion of Afghanistan by American forces. A conflict that spills out from the recognised battle front and over geographical borders to affect the lives of average people in nearby regions, sandwiched between the  forces of extremist religion and extreme nationalism their homelands become the venue of a fight  they didn’t seek.

Aslam is an author I’ll certainly read again, I’ll be looking out for his other books. I’ve had a look on the Book Depository site and have added them to my wishlist. One is still available in hardcover which is my preference, but for the cost of that I could buy two novels in paperback. I have to decide which path to take, whether I’d eventually regret the paperback option.

Here is a link to a recording of Aslaam talking about The Blind Man’s Garden (22 mins).

Reader’s Block

Have you ever experienced those weeks where one day you are extremely enthusiastic about reading, you have a book you’re loving – and then the next day all motivation to read has gone.

That is what has happened to me. I was getting along very well with The Blind Man’s Garden. I even took it with me on a weekend away for Gloria’s birthday and read a few chapters. But since I returned home I haven’t opened the book.

Most of my reading is done at work in lunch and tea breaks (smoko breaks in the local lingo), but my mind has been elsewhere. We’ve been going through major changes at work, most of them unnecessary, so there’s been quite a lot of stress over that.

And of course, news events over the last week have also been a distraction starting with the Boston Marathon bombings. I was trying to keep up to date with that and writing a few thoughts on my Onesimus Files blog, as well as contributing opinions to other sites. Hopefully, now that things have begun to settle down a little, I can get back to reading the excellent book that inspired my enthusiasm a week and a half ago.

Honesty With Beauty and Horror

Blind Mans GardenI’m really jumping the gun with this one, but I felt the need to write something in praise of this book even though I’m less than a quarter of the way into it.

The first 100 pages of The Blind Man’s Garden contain some of the best writing I’ve read. Lyrical, lush and poetic in descriptions of both beauty and horror, the book rings with  honesty, moving the reader through a range of emotions without a hint of manipulation.

The “war on terror” in Afghanistan and its effects are central to the beginning of the story with the real heroes of war being the everyday people who have to survive the horrors arising from someone else’s religio-political power struggle.

I’m loving this book and will certainly be looking for more of Nadeem Aslam’s work.