Sunday, 24 March 2019

The Selected Works of Abdullah the Cossack by H M Naqvi


The Selected Works of Abdullah the Cossack by H M Naqvi
Published by Grove Press on the 12th March 2019.

One of my 2019 New Release Challenge reads and one of my WorldReads From Pakistan

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Winner of the inaugural DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, H.M. Naqvi follows his critically-lauded debut Home Boy with The Selected Works of Abdullah the Cossack, an enthralling novel about one unforgettable and gloriously unaccomplished man, his impending death, and the history and life of his bustling, shape-shifting city.

Abdullah, bachelor and scion of a once prominent family, awakes on the morning of his seventieth birthday and considers launching himself over the balcony. Having spent years attempting to compile a "mythopoetic legacy" of his beloved Karachi, the cosmopolitan heart of Pakistan, Abdullah has lost his zeal. A surprise invitation for a night out from his old friend Felix Pinto snaps Abdullah out of his funk, and saddles him with a ward--Pinto's adolescent grandson Bosco. As Abdullah plays mentor to Bosco, he also attracts the romantic attentions of Jugnu, an enigmatic siren with links to the mob. All the while Abdullah's brothers' plot to evict him from the family estate. Now he must to try to save his home--or face losing his last connection to his familial past. Anarchic, erudite, and rollicking, with a septuagenarian protagonist like no other, The Selected Works of Abdullah the Cossack is a joyride of a story set against a kaleidoscopic portrait of one of the world's most vibrant cities.

Let me start this review by saying that I enjoyed spending time with Abdullah. The genre of elderly-men-looking-back stories can be rather hit and miss for me, but here I appreciated Abdullah's wry sense of humour and the way his first-person narration gives 'Currachee' a wonderful sense of life and energy. It felt refreshingly unusual to read about someone who never really made much of his life, but isn't bitter about it. I loved the warmth of his relationship with his young nephews. What failed for me in this book however was the overwhelming volume of footnotes. At times there are several irritating little numbers on a single page which each refer to a different section of tiny red font on another page. In a print book, with a finger marking each page, this might have been manageable. On my Kindle though, it swiftly became so annoying that I simply skipped most of the footnotes. Consequently I suppose I only therefore read about three-quarters of the book! I'm not going back in just to read the footnotes though.

The actual narrative line is a little confusing, possibly due to those missed footnotes, and I admit that The Selected Works Of Abdullah The Cossack probably suffered in being the book I read right right after The Old Drift. While The Selected Works isn't a bad novel at all, it just didn't have such an innovative spark. Writing this a day after finishing, elements of the story and characters are already fading from my mind which is a shame as the jazz club settings particularly are still memorably strong.

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