Between Clay and Dust

Musharraf Ali Farooqi. Freehand Books (LitDistCo, Canadian dist.)/Aleph Book Company, $19.95 trade paper (234p) ISBN 978-1-55481-207-3
Set in an unnamed city after the partition of India and Pakistan, Farooqi’s crisp, elegiac novel, which was shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize when it was published by Aleph in 2012, introduces the reader to a subculture of wrestlers and courtesans whose way of life is fading. Ustad Ramz, a celebrated pahalwan (wrestler), sees his sport as an almost spiritual vocation. Although he is celibate, Ustad frequently visits an inner city kotha (brothel) run by Gohar Jan, a cultured tawaif (courtesan) and gifted musician. Middle-age forces Ustad to pass on the leadership of his akhara (wrestling school) to his younger brother Tamami, whose disregard for tradition disappoints the old-fashioned pahalwan. Through the two brothers, the story shows how personal glory and changing values can come between family members. Farooqi’s atmospheric prose is spare and lucid, and while some readers may feel the story is hurried, pace. The novel is a melancholic portrait of characters adrift in a new world where tradition inevitably loses in the match against time. Agent: Thomas Colchie, The Colchie Agency, with Robert. B. Wyatt. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/21/2014
Genre: Fiction
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