cover image The Wandering Falcon

The Wandering Falcon

Jamil Ahmad. Riverhead, $25.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-59448-827-6

To the nomadic tribes inhabiting the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Lands), a harsh border region between Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, "home and permanency meant only a stay long enough to wash clothes or to affix the cradles to the trees." As a member of the Pakistani Civil Service, Ahmad served as the development commissioner for the frontier and in a minister position in Pakistan's embassy in Kabul during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In his first novel (at the age of 80), he proves a masterful guide to the landscape and to the captivating art of storytelling at its finest. This is a shadowy, enchanting journey. From the searing winds of the desert to the plains where sheep spend the winter grazing, daily life is hardscrabble at best and, more often than not, tragically violent. Over the course of the novel, the mysterious Tor Baz ("Wandering Falcon") weaves in and out of view, remaining as elusive and magnetic to readers as he does to those he encounters; familiar to everyone, he belongs to no one. Even as women are sold, children abandoned, and teachers kidnapped, the moment-to-moment impossibilities of these people reveal a spreading despair that precedes the forced end to these ancient ways of life. No country in which nomads roam recognizes them as legitimate: "In this clash, the state, as always, proved stronger than the individual." A gripping book, as important for illuminating the current state of this region as it is timeless in its beautiful imagery and rhythmic prose. (Oct.)