cover image The Return of Faraz Ali

The Return of Faraz Ali

Aamina Ahmad. Riverhead, $27 (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-33018-0

In Ahmad’s simmering debut, a Lahore police officer investigates a young girl’s death in the city’s infamous red-light district in 1968. Faraz Ali is ordered by Wajid Sultan, the chief secretary of Punjab and Faraz’s estranged father, to orchestrate a cover-up. To Faraz, the son of a kanjari, or prostitute, the assignment is an opportunity to reconnect with his mother and sister, Rozina, from whom Wajid had him removed as a child and sent to live with relatives. But after Faraz realizes the victim, Sonia, was a kanjari who was killed in the company of several influential men, his determination to seek justice for one of his own despite Wajid’s order results in his exile from Lahore. The author does a good job interweaving the characters’ personal drama with political unrest in Pakistan, but the constant switches in perspectives and time frames can feel jarring, and the truth behind Sonia’s murder is only fleetingly hinted at. Ahmad shines the most in her piercing observations of the marginalized and oppressed: Rozina muses that loss is merely “the condition of a woman’s life,” while a Bengali officer resigns himself to dying in the fight for his people’s independence. It is this keen eye for the vicissitudes of human life that, despite an uneven whole, demonstrates Ahmad’s promise. Agent: Ayesha Pande, Ayesha Pande Literary. (Apr.)