Boston

Book Review–Ashes, Wine and Dust

“There are no plans, just people fooling themselves by attempting to design their fates and futures. It makes them feel invincible, even if it’s for a transient period of time.”

Ashes, Wine and Dust is the debut novel of Kanza Javed, which was shortlisted for Tibor Jones South Asia Prize 2013, making her the youngest and the only Pakistani writer nominated for the prize that year.

Set in Lahore and Washington DC, Ashes, Wine and Dust is a journey of a young girl, Mariam, whose childhood experiences of loss of loved ones and memories associated with them make her feel everything a little more deeply. Thus, since her childhood, she feels more connected with the memories of her dada (paternal grandfather) and less with the rest of the family.

Memories of her childhood friends and confidants 10403138_1186536494695904_912160836046943541_nstill haunt her when she decides to leave for the US for further studies and in search for self-exploration. Thus, America awaits her with the mysterious art work of her uncle who had left her family years ago, his family who no longer cares for his work, and an unexpected incident that leaves her vulnerable in an estranged land. And while Mariam is figuring out on how to cope with her current situation, she finds out about the disappearance of her younger brother, Abdullah.

Alone in a foreign country with a brother missing, she blames herself for Abdullah’s disappearance and eventually travels back home in search of clues which might lead her to him.

As the family goes through the trauma of loss of a loved one and ultimately decides to move on albeit slowly, Mariam hangs on to the clues that Abdullah has left and vows to unite him with their family.

Javed’s Ashes, Wine and Dust is an excruciatingly beautiful read with strong characters that are often difficult to find in a debut novel. The story is gripping and engulfed in such an exuberant tone of despair and desolation of the protagonist that it keeps you in the mood even after you’ve finished the book.

The imagery of Lahore with its canals, food, colourful bazaars (markets) and backdrop of Badshahi Mosque in several scenes brings back the love of Lahore for those who have visited the beautiful city and invites those who still haven’t.

While Ashes, Wine and Dust is a powerfully gripping read till the end, it did let me down towards the end. And although the book ends with a closure, tying all its loose ends, I would have been happier had it ended on a brighter note. Nevertheless, the book is a must read of 2015.

Javed has done a wonderful job writing a novel that is unswerving, profound and painfully beautiful till the very end. Ashes, Wine and Dust would be available across Pakistan by the end of November, so get a copy of the book for a reading full of feels.

 

Average rating: 4.7/5

(This review was first published on ETribune)

Wait (Boston)

It had been an hour.

In the light of the sun, is there anyone? Oh it has begun…

The rain continued. Only it looked more like continuous showers than unpredicted rain. The street had been drenched, the puddles had formed already. Only the water in those puddles was clear as crystal.

His eyes were fixed right in front of his car—on a newly formed puddle of water. The puddle kept receiving more rain. The drops created those ripples that he had always enjoyed watching as a child. The ripple would spread wider and wider, until another drop fell at exactly the same place and the ripple would start all over again. It was like the ticking of time—only time would fly a little slower than the falling drops of rain. This wasn’t like back home.

You don’t know me, you don’t even care, oh yeah, she said…

He turned on the car’s wipers for a hundredth time when the visibility became zero again. He had to wait. He told himself. For the last time, before he left. The decision had already been made. He did not know whether it was only him who had made the decision. Yet he wished, hoped that it could change. Only one sincere request, one wishful phrase was needed to make him stay. After all this time.

Essential yet appealed, carry all your thoughts across
An open field,
When flowers gaze at you… they’re not the only ones who cry
When they see you

He almost heard the footsteps reaching, splashing through the rain, running towards the direction of his car. It was incredible that he could hear, despite the loud melancholy music. He lunged forward, almost opening the door of his car.

But he had been dreaming—in the daylight. It was not his fault. He had hardly slept for the past 48 hours. And in his defence, it was not ‘daylight’ as one would call. 3 pm as it may be, but it was as dark as a 6 o’ clock winter evening in London.

He wished the door of the front yard would open now. It had been too much to take. It could not wait much longer.

But he didn’t dare go towards the door himself. That required killing his ego for a thousandth time. He would not be able to face those eyes if he knocked the door. He would have to kill himself for the rest of his life. But more than that, those eyes would never forgive him for it. He had not forgotten the look in those eyes the last time he had tried to approach.

So he waited.

I think I’ll go to Boston…
I think I’ll start a new life,
I think I’ll start it over, where no one knows my name,
I’ll get out of California, I’m tired of the weather,
I think I’ll get a lover and fly’m out to Spain…

Why was there so much redundancy in his life? He thought as the song kept playing in the background. It had been on repeat since his two hour long drive from college.

Perhaps it talked about him. It matched so much. And yet it was so different from his own situation. He tried to keep quiet and concentrated on the rhythm of the piano. He needed peace within himself.

I think that I’m just tired
I think I need a new town, to leave this all behind…
I think I need a sunrise, I’m tired of the sunset,
I hear it’s nice in the Summer, some snow would be nice… oh yeah

The rain continued with occasional thunder. The ripples still formed. The piano kept playing. The puddles were larger than ever. The water seeped through his window and fell on his jacket. Summers had never been so cruel.

 

Until he saw the door of the front yard, at his far right side open.

 

(Feb 26, 2014)