Book Review: ‘Blind Man’s Garden’ shows travails of a confused nation through one family’s grief


“The Blind Man”s Garden” by Nadeem Aslam.

 By Waqas Banoori
Published in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on July 10, 2013.

Author Nadeem Aslam’s superb new novel “The Blind Man’s Garden” depicts the agony of a family tormented and grief-stricken as the result of the decades-long radicalization of Pakistan. It is also about the sufferings of the innocent in that society caused by the propagation of Islamaphobia in the West.

Mr. Aslam, a Pakistani writer living in Britain, is the author of two previously acclaimed novels, “The Wasted Vigil” and “Maps for Lost Lovers.” With his third novel, Mr. Aslam provides accurate insight into the war on terror, the working of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and the role of the warlords.

“The Blind Man’s Garden” also examines the various elements in Pakistan supporting the Taliban and al-Qaida. The reader is transported from the traditional lands of Punjab to the badlands of Pakistan’s northwest region and to the tribal areas that lead to wartorn Afghanistan shortly after the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Beginning in rural Pakistan, where radical ideas are often taught to young children, Rohan’s inability to harmonize with the pressures of modern life is clearly depicted. Moving on, Rohan unknowingly radicalizes his son Jeo, a medical student.

When Jeo secretly plans a trip to Afghanistan to help his suffering Muslim brothers, he’ll leave behind, Naheed, his 19-year-old wife. The plot of “The Blind Man’s Garden” mirrors the intricate and complex structure of Pakistani households and matrimonial decisions where a boy and a girl are often married by the choice of their parents, even against their will.

Naheed truly loved Mikal, Jeo’s best friend, yet her mother finds him unsuitable considering her financial obligations. Mikal goes with Jeo to protect him. However, both men are betrayed at a very early stage and are captured.

While being sold by one group of militants to another, Jeo is killed and Mikal ends up in a warlord’s jail. Passed around among several warlords, he is told that he will be ransomed. Months later, Mikal is sold to Americans and identified as a terrorist.

The story revolves around various aspects of Pakistani society where an extremist version of Islam often thrives in its rural settings. It depicts the economic challenge of being a part of the poor majority in the country. It also portrays the plight of women who are often suppressed under their male counterparts.

Meanwhile, Naheed waits for Mikal after Jeo’s death. Hearing false news of Mikal’s death, Naheed has to abort Jeo’s child since she wouldn’t be eligible for marriage if she has another man’s child.

This work of fiction is one of the best displays of the impact of the war on terror on the people living in Pakistan and Afghanistan ever written. It also illustrates the divide between the East and the West.

For instance, these lines: “Why didn’t three thousand Jews turn up for work at the World Trade Center on September 11,” were often used to recruit militants for the fighting in Afghanistan. As a student, I recall the events at one of the military institutions near Afghanistan’s border, where the preachers would often gather to call for standing up against the Western armies.

The book is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the relationship between militants and the Pakistani army. The character of Major Kyra, a retired military officer, who sends militants to Afghanistan and lays siege to an elite school, is also very emblematic of the society. A retired major enshrined with military protection could easily use the cover to work out his radical operations without any fear of apprehension.

It displays the mistrust and misunderstanding of an illiterate and confused nation that doesn’t know who is right — their religious teachers or the government and the international community.

The novel ends much like a film. However, the real end is far more ruinous and dreadful for the Pakistani nation.

Although Mr. Aslam is a British Pakistani, he understands the sociocultural and economic conditions of people living in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“The Blind Man’s Garden” accurately depicts the tribal culture and society in that part of the world. It is an enthralling work.