In Nadeem Aslam’s memorable 2008 novel The Wasted Vigil, set in Afghanistan, beauty and pain were intimately entwined, impossible to keep apart. The various incompatibles in his new book The Blind Man’s Garden don’t surrender their separateness so magically. There are awkward gaps and residues despite the author’s great gifts of imagination.

The novel starts in late 2001 and takes place largely in Pakistan, though some sections are again set in Afghanistan, newly invaded. Elderly Rohan, eventually the blind man of the title, his vision gradually dimming, founded an Islamic school called Ardent Spirit with his wife Sofia. After her death he was forced out as the school became intolerant, a virtual nursery of jihad, but continues to live in the house that he built on the same site.

The main characters of The Wasted Vigil were non-natives, a Briton, an American and a Russian (partial roll call of the nationalities that have meddled in Afghanistan). There are no such mediating figures in the new novel, and they are missed. No doubt imperialistic reading habits die hard, the easy expectation of having otherness served up on a plate, but it’s not just that. For Nadeem Aslam to communicate the richness and depth of his characters’ culture, he must keep touching in the background they take for granted, in passages that float free of their points of view. He informs us for instance that orphaned children are likely to be sought out and asked to say prayers, since they belong to a category of being whose requests Allah never ignores, and that the Angel of Death is said to have no ears, to prevent him from hearing anyone’s pleas. When there’s a reference to mountains near Peshawar being “higher than the Alps placed onto the Pyrenees”, the European frame of reference is jarring.

Before the main characters are properly introduced a minor figure administers a distracting overdose of symbolism. A “bird pardoner” sets up snares in the trees of Rohan’s garden, trapping the birds in nooses of steel wire. He plans to sell them in the town, since freed birds say prayers on behalf of those who buy their freedom. He doesn’t come back, though, at the promised time, and the trees are full of suffering birds.

Another minor character is a mendicant who goes around wrapped in hundreds of chains. The idea is that each link represents a prayer, and disappears as Allah grants it. The book also contains a ruby that appears without explanation, just in time to ransom a prisoner from a warlord, though the warlord, taking offence at a lack of respect during the ransoming process, pulverises the jewel and uses it as an instrument of torture instead.

For most of the book Aslam’s command of detail is absolute, but there are some strange failures early on. A page-long description of dozens of horses bursting out of the ground (they had been buried alive by Rohan’s great-grandfather to prevent them being taken by rebels during the Indian Mutiny) is visually incoherent, and even some modern details seem very unreal – such as streams with dozens of beards floating in them, shaved off by fleeing al-Qaida militants.

All of this seems to suggest the winsome irrationality of magical realism. In time, magical realism may be seen as a self-imposed variant of orientalism, complicit in the exotic expectations of outsiders. We are given to understand that when it comes to certain countries, certain cultures, the truth is incredible and, conversely, the unbelievable must be true. This isn’t at all what Nadeem Aslam wants to do, which is (at a guess) to dissolve the false opposition between reason and wonder, and the presence of these elements is all the more puzzling.

The book has a plot that converges a number of times on the action-adventure thriller, though containing more pain than the genre allows. Unprotected by the gorgeousness ofblind2 Aslam’s language, the story is potentially novelettish or TV movie-like: two foster brothers (Rohan’s son and a boy raised with him) in love with the same woman run away to war. The details here are infinitely more convincing – though I don’t know for a fact that a .22 bullet, used to replace the fuse in a van’s headlights, will overheat and be fired into the driver’s leg after about 15 miles.

The balance between these grim adventures and the life of the family waiting in anguish just about holds, though Rohan’s daughter Yasmin is an oddly sketchy presence, introduced late and never emerging as a character in her own right. This is unfortunate since the marginalisation of women, as demonstrated by “a framed family tree that displays only the names of the males”, is a theme of this novel as well as its predecessor.

Though Rohan represents devout but enlightened Islam, there are contradictions in him that the book skips over. Sofia told him she had lost her belief before she died, and he is supposed to have withheld her medication so as to force her to reconsider, such was his fear of her damnation. Students from Ardent Spirit patrol the graveyard, preventing women from visiting their dead relatives (something they have decided is forbidden), but we’re not given Rohan’s reaction to this as he exercises his own uncontested visiting rights. In the quarrel over the school he had been promised that there would be no militant teaching, but that was because he was regarded as an infidel and therefore someone to whom promises could be broken. It isn’t clear whether he objects to this principle or just to being classified as an infidel. At moments like these The Blind Man’s Garden seems not so much to embrace pain, as The Wasted Vigil did so powerfully, as to shy away from discomfort.

I borrowed this review from  Adam Mars-Jones  in The Observer.

Blind Man’s Garden is a good read but Aslam’s previous novel Wasted Vigil is a great novel. Read them both.



When does love for begin, when does it end and can it be interrupted. These difficult questions are tackled in Kitchen. Anna is a profession chef, trained in France. Her dream is to return to Provence and teach at the cooking school where she was a star student. Her husband Tobias is a composer who does sound tracks for documentaries but dreams of doing feature films. But the situation changes when her baby, Freye, is born multiply disabled because of extreme brain damage, the cause of which is unknown. They look for a place to move to in Provence but property values are too high. But they find a place in Pays D’Oc in a a rickety, rodent-infested farmhouse in a remote town in France—far from the mansion in Provençe they had imagined. Through out the novel the couple contemplate leaving the baby Freye for social services to take care of. Their line in the sand is when she needs a feeding tube. When one parent is ready to let her go the other parent is madly in love with her, and vise versa. Ultimately this is a story of acceptance, love and opening your hear. There are many enjoyable characters who circle around the main couple which add interest to the story.

Its a good read.



Golden Boy is the story of an intersex teen named Max. Raised as a boy, his life is turned on its head when he is sexually assaulted by his former best friend who knew about his condition. Max is a perfect kid. Good student, popular, co-caption of the soccer team, great friend, girls crushed on him. He was golden. Karen, Max’s mother, is a successful criminal lawyer, her husband Steven quits his job to run for the British parliament and her son Daniel adores his big brother Max and hates it when the other family members don’t tell him everything. Stress increases exponentially for Max when he finds out he is pregnant.

This book hooks you in right away.  Golden Boy was an incredibly emotional book. At times it could be hard to read but it was always honest and realistic.

Golden Boy is a must read!


RUTH OZEKIcreation

“Every seed has a story.”  Creation is a novel of modern redemption on a potato farm. After her abortion, Yumi knew she couldn’t stay at her parents farm. Her high school teacher had impregnated her; she was fourteen. After a few years she writes her parents but they never reply. Her parents Momoko and Lloyd Fuller have farmed potatoes for decades in Idaho.Momoko also has a successful seed company, doing the meticulous work of growing her own vegetables and flowers and harvesting and cataloguing the seeds. When her friend and former neighbour Cass writes to explain how poorly Yumi’s parents are doing, Yumi reluctantly returns to the farm with her three children, Phoenix, Ocean and “Poo” who are fathered by three different men. The Seeds are a group of protesters who are spreading the warnings about genetically engineered plants including potatoes.  They are traveling cross-country, creating protests to advance their cause and doing some minor damage at grocery stores, occasionally getting arrested. The mix of these three elements makes for an engaging and entertaining novel. A good read.


woefieldSUSAN JUBY

This is a great read: fun and funny yet poignant.

Ingrediants: Prudence Burns of Brooklyn, failed young adult novelist and a bit of a righteous cause-ist, inherits a farm on Vancouver Island; Seth, an alcoholic shut-in blogger who hadn’t been out of his mother’s house for over five years; Earl, a crotchety old farmhand who comes with the land and plays bluegrass and passes along nuggets of wisdom like “[it] don’t pay to ask questions about things that is none of your business”, Earl has an important secret; and Sara Spratt, an adorably plucky teen from a broken home, Sara is the one with the chickens and a lot of guts to put up with the likes of Seth and Earl. Put them all together and you end up with this wonderful book.juby




It must have taken a lot of courage for Wearing’s father to come out in the late 70’s when attitudes were much different than today. He was a university professor which would be have a liberal atmosphere. He travelled for work which gave him room to explore. Wearing describes her father as always being eccentric: hands waving as he talked, listening to opera as he cooked elaborate meals and skipping down the street. Being a child when he came out Wearing was most accepting. Though she never discussed the issue with her brothers, she did have a close friend to confess. Her friend whose parents are constantly fighting points out, “So your father’s a faggot, big whoop. At least he’s not a lying, cheating, son-of-a-bitch, drunken asshole.” As her father meets other gay fathers and realizes he isn’t the only man who married a woman in order to conform to social norms.  Both her parents are very loving and have always taken care of her and her siblings.  Still, Wearing’s father’s homosexuality does cause the end of his marriage, and Wearing deals with the experience of coming from a broken home with sensitivity and honesty. “It never occurred to me to hate Dad for being gay. What I did hate was the Greyhound bus, that long sprint on the dog’s back to and from Toronto. I hated the shame my mother wore in her eyes. But more than anything else, I hated all the stories I needed to invent about my life, the dancing pink elephant in the room that I spent my adolescence trying to conceal.”

fatherThe book has an interesting structure in that it is told from four points of view: the author’s is the majority of the book, for her father’s he provided her with a box of letters and a journal, for her mother’s she interviewed her and lastly “The Way We See It Now” thirty years later.

It’s a good read.