Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Entangled Lives by Imran Omer


Entangled Lives by Imran Omer
Published by Roundfire Books on the 27th July 2018.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository (PB)
Wordery (PB)
Waterstones (PB)
Amazon (ebook)

Raza, a poor orphan trapped in the slums of Pakistan, is sent to a strict madrassah where he meets and falls in love with Perveen. They attempt to flee the city to escape their respective fates but fail. Perveen, pregnant, is sent back to her family, and Raza is sent to Afghanistan to fight as a Taliban solider. American journalist, Rachael Brown, travels to Afghanistan to cover the political unrest. When she meets Raza for a brief interview, she sees for the first time the true face of the Taliban: poor and desperate young men with nowhere else to go. As the war unfolds, their paths cross again, and each must decide what they owe the other.

I was drawn to Entangled Lives by the ambiguous expression in the eyes of the man on its cover and when I discovered that this is an #ownvoices novel written by a Pakistani author, I knew I wanted to read it. Omer has made one of his protagonists a Taliban soldier which I felt was a brave step in the current political climate, especially as this soldier, Raza, tells us his story unapologetically. We follow his life from young orphaned child to American prison camp and so see the realities of life for poor families in Pakistan. Raza's family were Afghan refugees reduced to the most basic existence within Pakistan. And theirs is by no means an isolated case. Over decades from the partition of India in the 1940s to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s and beyond, the waves of migration from people seeking to escape conflict is overwhelming. Poor people of all faiths in this part of Asia have seemingly become so inured to growing up without hope of much more than simple survival that for Raza, as the example in this story, although he has some awareness that perhaps he shouldn't blindly believe everything he is taught in the madrassah, the reality is that he has no choice other than appearing to do so.

After we have learned much of Raza's life, the viewpoint switches to Rachael's story which, I admit, did briefly annoy me because I was so engrossed in reading about Raza. I initially didn't think I wanted to read about yet another entitled American journalist sweeping untouched through a poorer nation's civil war. As it turned out however Rachael's role is deeper than showing us Afghanistan from a Western perspective. She does travel more widely across the country than Raza can do and imparts an overview that helped with my understanding of the politics. She is also an interesting character in her own right so I revised my preconceptions there too!

I liked the ways in which Raza and Rachael's stories do become entangled. Omer's is deft yet with a nice delicacy that means he never hammers home his ideas or feels as though he is trying to hard to educate his readers. Instead I appreciated feeling as though I had space to make up my own mind. I am sure that some Western readers will look away from Entangled Lives because it doesn't neatly fit with the lines we are fed about good and evil, culpability and guilt. While we see the actions Raza has taken in his life and his own sense of shame, can we actually say he had free choice? If our rich nations have historically engineered so much of the destruction and despair 'over there', should we not also shoulder at least some of the responsibility for the current chaos and violence? There are absolutely no easy answers, but Entangled Lives is a powerful opening question especially for someone like me who wants to expand my knowledge of what is happening in countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan. A thought provoking novel and a brilliantly uncomfortable read.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Imran Omer / Contemporary fiction / Books from Pakistan

12 comments:

  1. I appreciate you picking this up and sharing your thoughts on it. I do agree that there is no easy answer to the past or to the present for that situation nor can blame be placed all at one door. Amazing review, Stephanie.

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  2. This sounds like a really important story to tell. I can understand why the change in POV wasn't initially welcome but I am glad that it worked out that their stories were both important.

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    1. The POV change did throw me for a few minutes

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  3. This is definitely a compelling story I wasn't aware of. These are the type of memoirs I enjoy reading. Great Review!
    Tori @ In Tori Lex

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    1. I'd love to know how much of this story the author actually experienced because so much feels scarily authentic

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  4. What an interesting thing to draw you to a book! This does seem a risky topic, but I'm glad you enjoyed it and that both POVs ended up working wel for you.

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    1. I hope this book provokes lots of conversation. I think it would be a great book club read

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  5. behind most stories of people force to fight [terrorists, guerrilla, regular army, etc] there is a story of poverty and being left without options. Finding a way to address hunger and global health care but solved many of the wars that afflict our planet. Great review!

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    1. Exactly, it upsets me that whole peoples are demonised for basically just trying to survive

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