Maps For Lost Lovers Paperback – Jul 26 2004
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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
From Publishers Weekly
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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
Reading this book for me was like eating a bowl of 'gulaab jaamans'* after a two day fast; sinfully pleasurable, drowning in sheera, oozing forth warmth and sticky sweetness, intensely gratifying in its every mouthful; but at the same time exhausting and devastating in its after effects.
Seriously speaking, from what I understand, it took Nadeem Aslam more than eleven years to bring this story to life; and it shows. Every sentence, every word in this novel bears witness to the painstaking effort that he has put into writing this literal work of art. I can't recall of any emerging modern day English author of Pakistani origin who has produced a work of fiction of this quality before.
`Maps for Lost Lovers' attempts to take a close look at the lives, beliefs and ideas etched in the minds of the Pakistani immigrant community in the UK. It brings together a cast of powerful, thought provoking, but ultimately doomed characters, who, through their well intentioned but misguided beliefs and actions end up destroying not only their own lives, but also the lives of those nearest and dearest to them. From the ultra orthodox Kaukab to the gentle Shamas to the damned Suraya, Nadeem Aslam has gone to great lengths to develop and capture the nuances and subtleties of his creations, whose lonely souls, trapped in internal conflict, seem to drift in eternal exile through the ruthless Dasht-e-Tanhai, The Desert of Loneliness (physically an immigrant town situated somewhere in the bleak English midlands). While the main theme of the story revolves around an honour killing, the book attempts to explore several other complex issues including racism, religion, fidelity, sex and of course isolation.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
It took Aslam over ten years to write this novel, working largely in solitude and subsisting on a very humble income. The beautifully wrought passages attest to the concentrated labour used to create them and the vast amount of time he spent with these characters shows in the penetrating insight he gives to their individual minds and hearts. The lyrical style of the novel which uses metaphor upon metaphor might at first be a distraction to the reader. However, this persistent way of likening one thing to another reflects the attitudes of people in this community who persistently compare things in England to their home country. It's a device by the author to show how they are in some ways unable to see things in England as they really are. One of the most remarkable things about this novel is the shocking, extremely violent reactions by the Muslim community used to condemn some of the characters' actions. Aslam based all these events on real reported incidents. He also depicts the extremely intolerant and racist attitudes of non-Muslims to this community of immigrants. However, at the same time the author shows how deeply compassionate members of the community are to each other and the difficult struggle they experience trying to maintain their beliefs in opposition to the more extreme Muslim behaviour some of them disapprove of. Aslam has spoken about how moderate Muslim's need to speak up in today's world and dispel the popular Western view that all people of this religion are dangerous extremists. This rich, entertaining and poignant novel is a testament to that struggle.
The compelling murder mystery that drives the story provides a context for the central motif: how traditional religion both serves and disserves its community, how literal interpretation of religious texts competes with reason, how love and marriage which so often defy control are strictly governed, leading to much unhappiness for both men and women, with women suffering most harshly.
The novel presents assimilation as a tremendous threat to this immigrant community, the systematic discrimination and daily indignities reinforcing its isolation, and also as the only avenue, at least some measure of assimilation, to a less constrained, less superstitious, less oppressive and potentially less oppressed life.
The story takes place pre-9/11 and of course, pre the London bombings this year. Having come this far with Shamas, Kaukab and their children, I am saddened to think about how their burdens have increased, and I thank the novel for allowing me to make this connection.
I'm not going into the details of the story because that's what the jacket copy is for and other reviewers have already done for me, but what I loved best was the unflinching portrayal of the Muslim community - and the way he wrote his characters; so vivid, flawed and HUMAN that if they were appear right next to you, you wouldn't bat an eye.
I also recommend Bodies in Motion by Mary Anne Mohanraj and That Summer In Paris (but especially Babyji) by Abha Dawesar for more delicious and provocative tales of South Asians.
And I did like the lyricism and the richness of imagery... at first. Then the whole book just comes down with what I can only describe as a severe case of metaphoritis incurabilis. Every single plot line and twist was overstuffed with tiresome asides, every single plodding step overwritten and overwrought. Much-awaited developments later in the book are surrounded by minute descriptions of unimportant details and memories, which for me was frustrating and had the effect of completely breaking the flow. There were a ton of metaphors to convey the most mundane things and actions and that, for me, just stood in the way of good story pacing and character development.
The murder mystery surrounding Jugnu's & Chanda's disappearance and various other subplots are nothing more than plot devices to show the wickedness of an old society out of step with the rest of the modern world. Here, Nadeem's demonisation of his ancestors' old world values unsettles the nice balance he could have achieved with a more even handed approach. He even, subconciously perhaps, forgets to paint in a personality for the white daughter-in-law Stella who remains a curiously unwritten minor character in the family saga. And I'm not sure he doesn't condone the monstrous behaviour of the westernised younger son. I certainly don't.
Nadeem's prose is both beautifully lyrical and overwrought, depending on one's own taste. His sentences are often suffused with images and metaphors that convey the smell and taste of the natural world (eg, butterflies, exotic flowers, fruits and trees, etc), they lose their value when they keep interrupting the development and flow of his ideas and when this happens, become an unnecessary distraction. The novel would in my view have profited from a little less heavyhanded stylistic approach.
Despite these flaws, "Maps For Lost Lovers" is a wonderfully impressive piece of work that deserves as wide a readership as the inferior "Brick Lane" got. Highly recommended.