Brought to you by the makers of The Friday Times, I give you Ali Sethi, the next big name on the Pakistani literary scene.
A publishing prodigy who produced his 400 page opus at the age of 24, Sethi will be, Mrs P predicts, an important regional voice in the next few years. However, his debut, The Wish Maker, doesn't quite hit the spot. As first books go, this is written in confident, controlled prose and displays quite the gift for metaphor and a set of descriptive skills that belie his tender age. In a sense, Sethi's book has it all, a diverse set of characters, a vast historical span, lashings of style, everything, that is, barring a plot. You could write the story arc on a grain of sand, and, at times, you kind of wish the author had just done that instead.
What one gets is an inventory of events rather than experiences, a list of things that happened in Pakistan and to Pakistan from the 90s to present day. While Sethi manfully resists the usual cliches (not an honour killing in sight) to present a modern, recognisable country, no newsworthy happening is left unturned. One suspects at times that too wide a net has been cast to incorporate everything from Partition to Kashmir to Zia to Benazir's assassination (to the gratuitous and freestanding account of Najam Sethi's arrest). It's a great shame that one gains a far better understanding of the political climate than of the narrator's innermost desires. For a coming of age story, it was disappointing that the only person who convincingly aged over the course of the book was me, the reader.
Far more entertaining is the critical response which is laden with White Man's Burden, the readers' reviews as seen on the odd blog and amazon.com tend towards a certain sense of guilt and shame. Samples include, "I found it hard to get into, but that could be because I don't know enough about that part of the world", or "I felt it could have been shorter, but I have never read a book about Pakistan before". The Paksploitation train is rolling down the platform, next station: Hefty Publisher's Advance. All aboard?