When you read a Nadeem Aslam novel, you sink in the words. You cherish the writing, and let the plot linger with you way after the book is over. Nadeem Aslam was introduced to me by a friend, when he gifted me a copy of, “Maps for Lost Lovers” and I remember reading it in one night. I was hooked. There was no way I was going to go to sleep without finishing the book. The same happened when I started reading, “The Wasted Vigil”.
“The Wasted Vigil” is not a new book however that does not matter. Moreover it is quite difficult to write a book about Afghanistan and deal with its history of the last thirty-odd years. I have read a lot of books on Afghanistan and its condition, however this one has been very different (rather handled quite well) and written like a dream.
The book is set in present Afghanistan and includes a band of diverse characters. An English Ex-Pat, his Afghani wife and daughter, and the stories from their village form the backdrop of the story. To this, other characters are added – An American Ex-Spy, the sister of a dead Soviet from the 80’s, an American Special Forces agent, and a young Jihadi and two Afghan “warlords” (which is the most interesting in my opinion), complete the tapestry of this book. The action in the book takes place at Marcus’s house (The Englishman). Lara arrives there one fine day in search of her brother and the drama unfolds. The others arrive one after the other in search of someone or something. This is the premise of the book.
What I loved about the book was of course the way it was written but also the way the characters are etched throughout, from beginning to the end, no one is out of place. There are some astoundingly beautiful sentences, though at times (rarely) I felt they somehow did not add to the narrative as whole. Nonetheless, I enjoyed them a lot and here are some striking examples:
“All those who love know exactly the limit they’re prepared to go to. They know exactly what is required.”
“On the journey towards the beloved, you live by dying at every step”
“How keen everyone is to make this world their home forgetting its impermanence It’s like trying to see and name constellations in a fireworks display.”
The literary and historical references in the book are bang on and make a lot of sense when read from an overall perspective. The narrative moves back and forth from one person to another and that at times presents a problem reading the book, however before you know it, you will get used to the style of writing.
The threads are connected with great care throughout the book. The socio-economic lay of the land is described intricately and gives the reader a sense of place and time. No sides are taken and no judgments are made. That is probably the best way to approach this book while reading it as well. All I can say is that I enjoyed this book a lot, despite not agreeing to certain parts. A great read for sure. Intense and thought-provoking.