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The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad

The Wandering Falcon (2011)

by Jamil Ahmad

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3544350,954 (3.77)76
A debut novel set in the Federally Administered Tribal lands at the intersection of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan follows the story of banished refugees' son Tor Baz, who travels throughout the region while considering his prestigious lineage and witnessing the effects of extreme culture and geography on the lives of those he encounters.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
Loved this book. A brilliant collection of interconnected short stories, sad & beautiful, written in simple prose. The stories are of everyday struggles, of survival, of injustice and resilience. Life in distant areas like the pakistan/afghanistan border looks like a tale of distant eras, as the ones we listened when a child. And gave me one the best things when we read a book : follow the story as if we are part of it. Higly recomendable.
( It was an offer from a Bookcrosser when she visited Portugal. Thanks Apolonia ) ( )
1 vote gioacchinoponte | Nov 12, 2019 |
Intriguing and mesmerizing look at the tribes of Pakistan and Afghanistan and their customs through a series of vignettes. Each is connected through the figure of Tor Baz [the "wandering falcon" of the title]. He appears in each story. He is the illegitimate son of two lovers. He sees his parents killed before his eyes, lives in a garrison for several years, then with outlaws and a mullah. Then he strikes out on his own and wanders that bleak, mountainous country from tribe to tribe. The people do not recognize any country borders since Afghanistan and Western Pakistan are so similar in terrain. He pops up in each story. The author, through his stark and spare style evokes the place and time; I assume after the British have quit the area, maybe 50-60 years ago. ( )
  janerawoof | Oct 24, 2019 |
The Wandering Falcon by Pakistani author Jamil Ahmad is a collection of inter-linked stories that are set in the remote tribal lands along the Pakistan-Afghan border. The stories all concern the life of these tribal people and are linked by one character who weaves in and out of most of the stories.

We first meet Tor Baz, the black falcon, when as a young child his parents are killed by his mother’s relatives. She had run away from an impotent husband with one of her father’s servants. They had avoided being caught for many years, but were eventually discovered. From there the child is shuffled around, always wandering and never the main character of the story but instead appearing on the fringes. He is a guide, an informer, a smuggler and a slave trader. This is an unforgiving corner of the world and conditions are harsh. Through these stories the traditions and culture of these tribal people are revealed.

The author writes with great respect and empathy toward these people. Their lives are filled with harshness and cruelty as they wander with their herds. Eventually the political borders are called into play and their wandering lifestyle is curtailed. In one story, “The Death of Camels|”, the refusal of Pakistan to allow them to take their herds to fresh pasture across the border, means not only the death of their herds but brings their own lives into jeopardy as well.

Jamil Ahmad is a gifted storyteller and The Wandering Falcon is a moving account of a disappearing lifestyle. ( )
1 vote DeltaQueen50 | Feb 7, 2018 |
Interesting read - nice to learn about different culture and gain an understanding of one of the impacts of borders! ( )
  mnorfolk49 | Nov 21, 2016 |
In the cracks and interstices of modern states (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran) live people who do and do not belong; nomads and other tribal peoples who negotiate a life with several governments.

This short work is a tribute to them, an account of them in concise stories and anecdotes. The slow courtesies of speech; a tribes’ immense tactfulness towards an old chief who has lost most of his eyesight but leads them out in action nevertheless, when obligation calls; this same chief with his antiquated ethic of an uttered word being a pledge, in a court of law that treats his party as bandits and in their eyes, in turn, is rude, inhumane and uncivilized.

In an interview the author says, “…it appears this type of collectivity is less tyrannical, more just, and has very simple rules of right and wrong, compared to other society. In fact, if you think about it, the amount of brutality committed in the cities and what we know as civilised society is far more than has ever been committed in tribal areas.” He is then asked about what makes them ‘harsh’, and he answers, “I don’t think I would call them harsh. They are, of course, hard – the land makes them hard, their fight for survival makes them hard. But they also have enormous tenderness, and love, and civilised behaviour. That is there too. So, it’s not all brutality and harshness, no, no.”

I am sad to see professional reviews reach for the word ‘brutal’, one after the other, and the worst of them fail to see past the ideas they have brought to this book on ‘tribal Afghanistan’ – fail to see these elegant turns of mind and speech that he painstakingly portrays. The author wrote in the 70s, in a world innocent of Osama bin Laden or the Taliban; so that if I see another newspaper review telling us these are implicit in the setting or the narrative, I’ll scream. (Because history happens to these people, on the whole; history invades them. This is not a contemporary story, the author says in the interview; haven’t nomads been fettered by states for 2000 years?) Even so, in the 70s, this tribal world was on the brink of extinction; he almost claims so for the Baluch, with an exquisitely-written epitaph; and then there is the story of the nomad people whose ways are shut off one year by the government; it ends with a massacre, and after the massacre, starvation.

A few of these tribes live in poverty, either humbly or with an adversarial attitude; a few live well on the milk and fat of their flocks, until the state intervenes. They have relationships with governments home and foreign that go back to the Great Game and WWI, that are as various as the tribes themselves, their lifestyle, their ethics, the behaviour of women. Women play a large part in these stories, from the one who leads that disastrous crossing of an international line, under threat of guns, to those who abandon husbands, for better or worse fates. One important thing – he says this too in the interview – is that he wants to write how different the tribes are from one another. Those unfamiliar lump them together as an age-old cultural world.

The stories are not even in quality. Neither is the writing. I felt the three early stories were head and shoulders above the later. Once, just once, I thought he defected from his task, when he made a judgemental, outsider’s statement about the ‘character’ or ‘morals’ of a tribe entire – which is what this lovely book avoids. People have bad stories. A deeply ethical mullah ends violently insane. A girl scores a husband with the asset of a performing bear – wealth and status to her poor family’s eyes; but he is more concerned about his single asset than about her. The author’s aim is not that we universalise these stories (they have cruel husbands – mullahs were odd fish). He took these stories from life, from his experience as an administrator for decades around the tribal areas. He writes of them with respect and lament. Although his ethnographic fiction from the 70s was published to acclaim at the end of his life, he has the sorrow – as he alludes to in the interview I read – of knowing that the tribes, whose near-eradication he complained of then, have not won their battles for existence since. ( )
  Jakujin | Aug 18, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
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...
added by Jcambridge | editNPR, Alan Cheuse (Sep 27, 2011)
After a lifetime of service as a bureaucrat in the wild terrains between Pakistan and Afghanistan, 78-year-old Jamil Ahmad has the perfect understanding and insight into a place that vexes many a strategist around the world today. The Wandering Falcon, his debut novel, is a product gleaned from that experience, a record of individual tales of honour and desire among the tribes inhabiting Balochistan, Waziristan or the Swat Valley, people for whom “the terrible struggle for life makes it impossible for too much time to be wasted over thoughts for the dead”.

Tor Baz is the eponymous falcon, who is born and grows into adulthood during the course of the novel. In a region of fierce tribal identities, his origins remain amorphous. Nor is he useful in lending narrative cohesion but ends up loosely linking the stories of his parents who defied the tribal code of honour and eloped, the nomadic Kharot tribe trying to come to terms with the limitations of political boundaries or the way of life of the Wazirs, Mahsuds or Afridis.

Set in the mid-20th century, it is the changing life and mores of the nomadic tribes that Ahmad captures in clear, haunting prose: “One set of values, one way of life had to die … The new way of life triumphed over the old.” His keen observation is not lacking in humour either: a peek inside the Mahsud jirga reveals not just a dour assembly of bearded men but also intense discussions about “the safest smuggling routes, the most profitable items of contraband …and all the current social gossip and scandals in the area.” For the sheer humanising of a much-misunderstood people, the book is worth a read.
added by kidzdoc | editHindustan Times, Antara Das (Aug 10, 2011)
Jamil Ahmad, a Pakistani civil servant, began his career in Baluchistan in the 1950s. Most civil servants posted to such a remote area as Baluchistan, North Western Frontier Province, or the tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghan border would lobby hard for a posting in the bigger cities of Pakistan, but Ahmad stayed on, spending several decades working as an administrator. Unlike most officials from the plains, Ahmad learned Pashto, the language most tribes along the dreaded frontier speak. Along the way, he took notes, and by 1974 had turned his impressions into a collection of inter-linked stories.

Ahmad stashed away his first draft, leaving it untouched for three decades. In 2008, he was 75, retired from the civil service, and living in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. Two young Pakistani women, a Lahore-based bookseller, Aysha Raja, and a Karachi-based columnist and editor, Faiza Sultan Khan, called on Pakistani authors to submit stories for a competition. Ahmad's younger brother insisted that he must show them his work. After reworking the 35-year-old manuscript, Ahmad sent it to Khan, who championed it, and showed it to an editor at Penguin.

Two years later, Jamil Ahmad made his debut as the 78-year-old writer of The Wandering Falcon, one of the finest collections of short stories to come out of south Asia in decades.
added by kidzdoc | editThe Guardian, Basharat Peer (Jun 25, 2011)
(This is a link to a story on NPR in which Steve Inskeep interviews the author in Islamabad, Pakistan about the book.)
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