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Tuesday, 26 February 2013

How to Live in a World we Don't Understand

This feature on novelist Nadeem Aslam struck me; he combines intensity, with dedication, humanism and his heritage without resorting to the prejudice of those who are lesser than him.

Read the whole feature here.

The Blind Man's Garden, his fourth novel, published by Faber on 7 February, opens soon after September 11, almost where The Wasted Vigil left off. But while the previous novel had no Pakistani characters, this one traces the spilling over of the Afghan war into its neighbour. People forget, Aslam says, that "Pakistan has paid a huge price for the war in Afghanistan". Since 2001, "upwards of 30,000 people have died in terrorist, jihadi violence. That's one 9/11 every year." Of the CIA drone attacks since 2004 on northern Pakistan, "only one in 50 'surgical strikes' is killing a militant. So they're taking out husbands, wives, children as 'collateral damage'."

His raw material is in "about a hundred" notebooks, over 25 years. An American soldier in The Blind Man's Garden has a tattoo that reads "Infidel" in Arabic, as though a boast. The shocking image came from a magazine photo of a real soldier that Aslam duly taped into his notebook

He barely pauses between books. "I've more or less realised my writing has cost me almost everything," he says. "Sometimes friendship, love – because there's not enough time to be with people, and never enough money. Work can take so much out of you, with 12- or 13-hour days. A study is a laboratory first – then a factory."

Once, he recalls, on his way to visit his mother, who was ill, "I opened the paper to find Martin Amis's 'thought experiment': that Muslims should be stopped from travelling. I broke into a sweat. They would stop me from getting on a train to see my sick mother because someone who looks like me has carried bombs." He appears stricken. "When I criticise Islam, it isn't in that tenor."

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