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The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad

The Wandering Falcon (edition 2012)

by Jamil Ahmad

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2563944,720 (3.75)50
Title:The Wandering Falcon
Authors:Jamil Ahmad
Info:Riverhead Trade (2012), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library, Literary fiction

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The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad

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Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
This is such a wonderful book. The author offers in-site into a land and culture that is relatively unknown. This would be a wonderful book for a book club to read.

The book starts out with two people wandering in the desert searching for refuge. Although the people do not last through out the whole novel they are made vivid through the writing. While the author only carries one character though out the whole novel, the character rises above the short-comings that have befallen on him. This one character proves to all that no matter what we can all rise up in life and overcome anything in our past.

I hope to read additional work by this author in the future.

This book was received from a contest on Goodreads.com from Riverhead Books. This was a first read book. The actualy book is suppose to be on-sale in October. ( )
  kybunnies | Oct 19, 2014 |
Raw, hyper-real stuff. The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad mesmerizes you with its spare, elegant prose. In this collection of interconnected stories, we get an unflinching glimpse at the lives of the people who live along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan: the Kuchi, the Pashtun, the Waziri, and others. It's a world rarely seen in books.

There is a hard-edged beauty in the desolation of the landscapes described and the lives we see, but nothing is exoticized. Our Western sensibilities are also never spared. While there is violence, the carnage isn't depicted voyeuristically. When we see a daughter get sold for a pound of opium, or when a man kills his lover to protect her from her vengeful family who chases them across the high desert, or when a woman chooses to be sold to a brothel rather than face humiliation at home—it's never depicted in a sensational way. Ahmad avoids romanticizing tribal life or condemning it. This lack of judgment mirrors the tribes themselves, in the unblinking way they face life and reality—and it's a harsh reality, one of migrations, raids, encroaching modernity.

The quality of the writing alone in The Wandering Falcon is worth the read, a throwback to classic storytelling done right. There is a rhythm to the writing that mimics the way the caravans in the stories meander across the hills and mountain passes.

Some people might be frustrated by the fact that there isn't a distinct central character to root for in the book. We first see the protagonist as a child born in the first story, but in succeeding ones we see him move from one group to another without him being the focus. He eventually gets a name, Tor Baz or Black Falcon. Tor drifts in and out of other people's stories obliquely, which is a remarkably postmodern move in an otherwise straightforward, classic story. Ahmad doesn't spend any time developing Tor's character. As Tor drifts around, the role he plays changes—from orphan to informer to trader. He's a protagonist who doesn't want us to follow him. Nor does Ahmad want to reveal anything about him as an individual really. Probably because in the withholding, Ahmad reveals so much more. ( )
  gendeg | Oct 5, 2014 |
a fascinating yet somewhat frightening insight into the lives of various tribes living on the borders of Pakistan...I enjoyed it, but found the abrupt ending of some of the stories disappointing - you didn't always get to see the conclusion. I guess that may well have been the point, though. ( )
  shirleybell | Sep 26, 2013 |
I enjoyed this book even if I didn't fully understand it. I think I'm going to have to read it again to perhaps absorb what the author is trying to say. ( )
  lafon | Mar 31, 2013 |
Most of what I know about the part of the world where Pakistan and Afghanistan meet is through Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King. So you know I don't know much.

But I do know that when Daniel Dravot and Peachy tried to use their guns and wits to conquer the tribes in this mountainous, inhospitable region, the tribal culture initially worked for them, then against them.

This view of tribal culture, in which the individual may endure but does not achieve dominance, is but one of the conclusions reached reading another book that takes part in that high corner of the world. Jamil Ahmad, at age 80, published his first work with The Wandering Falcon after spending years in the area.

It isn't quite accurate to call The Wandering Falcon a novel. It is part fable, part character study of a way of life rather than one singular character and part a setting down in writing tales that have probably been told there for years.

There is a man in the book who is a wandering falcon. His parents are unfortunate lovers; she's the daughter of a tribal leader and he's a nobody. They ran away together, finding refuge for several years near an army fort. When her father's people eventually find them, the outcome is not good. Their child, the falcon of the story, survives. He's passed from mentor to mentor over the years. What he learns and how he became what he did is not told, however. He disappears for pages and pages.
But in between those appearances, the various stories provide a few clues as to how the people of the region may view life.

In one of the early stories, a tribe comes to grips with the newly enforced border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, not sure if everyone will be able to get across as they move their few animals to better grazing. The tribe's leader tries to negotiate safe passage with an army official, unsuccessfully. As he leaves, he adjusts his cloak. As he does so, his son realizes that the cloak is now an "ordinary covering for an old man". The "general" has lost his authority.

The general later reminds his son about a time they met another old man, who said the secret to his long life was eating raw onions:

What he told you that day was the secret of life itself. One lives and survives only if one has the ability to swallow and digest bitter and unpalatable things. We, you and I, and our people shall live because there are only a few among us who do not love raw onions.

As bitter as life is for the menfolk, it's worse for the women. They are property to be kidnapped, sold for a pound of opium, to be treated worse than a bear that does tricks. Malala Yousufzai would know the attitudes here well.

In all these stories within the book, the boy who is known as the falcon either does not appear or makes only a brief appearance. He could be likened to a bird that views the actions of these characters from a distance and without passion.

One character, a magistrate, in Ahmad's tales is disdainful of anything that is not a cold, hard fact. Telling rationales through fables, for example, serves no purpose in his world view. "Fables have no use here," he says. "Can a fable explain a death?"

Of course a fable can explain a death, a way of life and the dying of a way of life. Which is, perhaps, more to the point of The Wandering Falcon than anything else.

The Wandering Falcon is a finalist for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. The winner will be named Jan. 25 in Jaipur. Also on the shortlist are The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam, River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh, Our Lady of Alice Bhatti by Mohammed Hanif, The Walls of Delhi by Uday Prakash, translated by Jason Grunebaum, and Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil. ( )
  Perednia | Dec 10, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 36 (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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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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