I first heard about Fatima Bhutto's book in the October 2010 edition of "Vogue" magazine. In an article entitled "Dreams of her father", written by Vogue's regular columnist Elizabeth Rubin, the young woman lets the world know not only her version of how her father died, but also about the tight bond she had with him. For Fatima Bhutto, her father was her world. So much so, that when he once broke his arm and had to wear a cast for a few weeks, she insisted in wearing one as well. Although she was only four, the young girl stood by her father throughout his setback.
She also stood by his side when he was drenched in blood, agonizing during the last minutes of his life, barely tended to at the Mideast Clinic in Karachi - "I kissed my father's face, his cheeks, his lips, his nose, his chin, over and over again." (page 413). Having seen death more than once at a very young age myself, albeit only of natural causes, I cannot even begin to imagine how this must have impacted a girl of just fourteen, the age Bhutto was at the time her father was assassinated in his native Pakistan.
The Bhuttos are a political dynasty who does not escape the air of tragedy that goes attached to most other political dynasties, like the Kennedys or the Borgias. The patriarch and founder of the Pakistan's People Party or PPP, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB), was himself hanged after a coup d'état in 1979, setting the tone for the death of other members of the family, at the pace of one per decade, as Bhutto is quick to point out. She retells all their stories, in a book that is absorbing, extremely interesting from the point of view of a political scientist like myself, but it is also, first and foremost, a heart-wrenching story about a girl who, fourteen years later, still mourns the death of her father, and at this pace, I gather she always will.
But although Bhutto's book is invariably partial to her father, her contribution as a historian is nonetheless outstanding. I discovered this while I was reading the book, and commenting it as I progressed through my reading with my own husband, who is also native of Karachi. Even though his family has lived at Clifton Street most of their lives, he had no idea as to the events that brought the Bhuttos to power, ZAB's communist ideas for Pakistan, and the causes for his removal and subsequent extinction. He also had no idea as to which political power backed who in the family (first Russians and then Chinese backed ZAB and his sons, United States backed his estranged daughter Benazir), and why the family had such a rift after the patriarch's death. What my husband did tell me is that, having grown up during Zia ul Haq's rule, anything having to do with the Bhuttos was palabra non grata, to the point that their contribution - good or bad - to the country's history was negated in the regular education of its citizens. To me this is simply appalling, and I commend Bhutto for, if nothing else, letting the people of her country know about their own past.
Perhaps because I adore my husband and I very much wish from the bottom of my heart that his country would recover and be able to stand on its own, I exhort people like Bhutto to come forward and tell their story. Pakistan seems to me an intriguing nation, Muslim in religion, yet Hindu in customs, descended racially from the Mughals, yet with a physical appearance similar to that of the Afghans. They are nowadays the very cauldron of the world, allusive to the Greek caves of Hades. They have been mitigated time and again by everything from natural disasters to corruption, yet they have an outstanding potential for greatness. It is my sincere wish that the swords of the battle stop spilling more blood and get changed, in turn, for the bricks of knowledge.