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Maps for Lost Lovers is a stunningly brave and searingly brutal novel charting a year in the life of a working class community from the subcontinent--a group described by author Nadeem Aslam as "Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Indian and Sri Lankans living in a northern town". The older residents, who have left their homelands for the riches of England, have communally dubbed it Dasht-e-Tanhaii, which roughly translates as "the wilderness of solitude" or "the desert of loneliness". As the seasons change, from the first crystal flakes of snow that melt into "a monsoon raindrop", we slowly learn the fate of Jugnu and Chanda, a couple whose disappearance is rumoured to have been a result of their fatal decision to live in sin in a community where the phrase holds true meaning.
This uncompromisingly honest--and often uncomfortable to read--story is told through the eyes of Jugnu's brother's family who live next door. Shamas is director of the local Community Relations Council; a liberal, educated man he still mourns the passing of communism and yearns for passion in his later years. His wife Kaukub, daughter of a Pakistani cleric, is also in mourning for the passing of her devout Muslim upbringing and is forced to watch her three children turn "native". She tries increasingly desperate measures to turn them back to Islam. Pakistani-born Nadeem Aslam skilfully intertwines myths and legends with a harsh, modern reality. Tragic sub-plots of Romeo-and-Juliet proportions abound. And while some of the extended descriptive passages sit uneasily on the page and, towards the end, several rants against Islam forced through the mouths of characters become thinly-veiled lectures, nevertheless Maps for Lost Lovers is an epic work and an important milestone in British literature that deserves to be widely read by all multicultural societies seeking mutual tolerance and understanding. --Carey Green
In this poignant, lushly written novel, Aslam (Season of the Rainbirds) explores the interwoven lives of Pakistani immigrants in an English town they have rechristened Dasht-e-Tanhaii, "the Wilderness of Solitude" or "the Desert of Loneliness." The disappearance of Jugnu and Chanda, lovers who broke Islamic law to live in sin, throws the small community into upheaval. The police arrest Chanda's brothers, whom they believe murdered the couple to avenge their family's shame. Meanwhile, Jugnu's brother, Shamas, contemplates the loss, occasionally clashing with his wife, Kaukab, a devout Muslim who overtly disapproved of the relationship. Aslam depicts an insular ex-pat Pakistani community fighting to preserve its cultural heritage and losing the battle to its Western-born children—often quite violently. At the heart of the turmoil is sexual freedom, and Aslam illustrates the many ways women's lives are restricted and romantic love is denied in the name of religion. At times, Aslam's critique grows didactic, as when he saddles his characters with long stretches of wooden, philosophical dialogue. But in Kaukab, the lonely, sympathetic believer who inadvertently alienated her own children, Aslam personifies the conflicts of acculturation, crafting a truthful story that resists easy conclusions. (May 8)
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