To read or not to read: Not if you are looking for a great thriller, but worth a read for insights into Pakistani society and politics.
City of Spies by Sorayya Khan has a surprisingly benign and soothing spirit to it belying the turbulent times and events it is set in. The point of view is also curious. It isn’t that of an insider defending Pakistan. It isn’t one of an outsider berating it either. The protagonist – a young girl – is simultaneously an insider and an outsider. There isn’t much of a plot in the story, and things that do happen are mostly historically known. But it keeps you riveted to the pages (screen in my case, as I read it on Kindle). The reason is that the protagonist Aliya’s struggle to make sense of the world around her is not only her own. We all struggle with that, and not just as children or adolescents. But well into our adulthood, perhaps all our lives.
It is coming of age story for people of all ages. Not to be put aside as meant only for young adults.
Below is the book description from the publisher’s website.
‘God was everywhere, but so was the general.’
It is the summer of 1977 and Pakistan swelters in the unrelenting heat. Weeks after her eleventh birthday, Aliya Shah wakes up to the news that there has been a coup d’état, General Zia has taken over the country and Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is in jail. Although the shadow of the general and his increasingly puritanical edicts threaten to disrupt their comfortable existence, life goes on for Aliya much as before as she attends the American
School in Islamabad.
However, when a much loved young boy, the son of the family retainer, dies tragically in a hit-and-run accident, her world is turned upside down, especially when she discovers the terrible secret of the murderer’s identity.
City of Spies is coming-of-age story that explores Aliya’s conflicting loyalties and her on-going struggle to make sense of her world. Set in late 1970’s Islamabad and Lahore, City of Spies is a gripping novel that unfolds over thirty months in Pakistan’s tumultuous history.