Speaking Out

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Editor Muneeza Shamsie has collected unforgettable stories by Pakistani women, enchanting us, and making us laugh and cry all at once. Born in Lahore, Shamsie went on to study in England, and has lived in Karachi for most of her life. The stories selected for this volume reflect the multiple identities these women must create for themselves, as they live in South Asia and the Western world, trying to make their lives bearable.

In her introduction, Shamsie informs us, “From the earliest years in Pakistan, there has been a tradition of creative English writing by women. The Heart Divided by Mumtaz Shahnawaz (1912-1948) was possibly the first South Asian English novel about Partition.”

This volume includes the work of well-known writers such as Roshni Rustomji’s poignant “Existing at the Centre, Watching from the Edges: Mandalas,” or Bapsi Sidhwa’s black humor in “The Arsonist.” The other writers are equally gifted: Humera Afridi’s “The Price of Hubris,” Shahrukh Husain’s “Rubies for a Dog: A Fable,” are highly polished, unforgettable gems.

Rustomji takes us into the heart of darkness, when the South Asian subcontinent was separated into India and Pakistan in 1947: “… the land had been divided and there was bloodshed. … All that red of marriage and families joining together turned to blood across the land.” Even so, the author’s relatives go on to actively help fellow sufferers, developing refugee shelters for millions rendered homeless.

Every writer included in this volume has to actively participate in making an identity for herself, so she will carry the roots of her identity of being Pakistani within herself, and yet travel across continents in search of truth, an education, a dream. Sara Suleri Goodyear’s “Boys Will Be Boys” describes how she and her sisters decided that “… each of us would always wear the same perfume, … so that over the continental drift that we spread ourselves there would be a way of allaying that aching distance.”

Tolerance for many worldviews will allow us to re-create our own identities, no matter where we live. Nayyara Rahman’s narrator in her story “Clay Fissures” is Pradeep Sehgal, the “adopted albino son of a Hindu merchant and a Eurasian seamstress.” His boss, Mr. Ruknuddin, says, “We all make our own identities. (My brother) was willing to die for his land and race. I choose to live for mine. That doesn’t make him a martyr or me a traitor. It simply makes us who we are.”
This highly affirming volume gives us hope that we can learn to move away from our past and present wars, and envision new futures for ourselves.

—Jyotsna Sanzgiri

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