Friday, December 26, 2014

The Scatter Here Is Too Great by Bilal Tanweer

Bilal Tanweer's interconnected short stories set in contemporary Pakistan made my Bestest Books so Far list, midway through 2014. I read the whole book again today and I love it even more.

The Scatter Here Is Too Great is about loneliness and community, our inner lives and our exterior interactions. It's about the way "stories give us reasons to connect ourselves to the world," and the way creating art can heal our wounds.

The narrative centers around a few of the people who are affected by a bomb blast at an intersection in Karachi, although most of them have sorrows that are completely apart from this tragedy. For example, a father knocked down by the explosion is thinking of his estranged son:

"You desperately wish to see your son and tell him you are fine. You want to hold his hand like the time when he was a ceaselessly crying newborn and you were alone in the hospital room sitting next to his cot feeling a kind of raging joy, an awe, as if you were looking at Life itself, a presence of something divinely new, as if you had just begun a life outside yourself, and nothing, not even death, could damage all your dying rotting parts that you felt each day."

Another man grieves for his long-dead father, who once told him:

"A city is all about how you look at it. We must learn to see it in many ways so that when one of the ways of looking hurts us, we can take refuge in another way of looking. You must always love the city."

The characters are tenderly portrayed, flawed and so very believable, seen from a variety of vantage points. Seen through Tanweer's eyes, even garbage is beautiful:

"The sea at 11:00 A.M. was one Karachi dream that came true each day. It was one part of the city that remained as it ever was: a vast desert of water meeting a uniform spread of gray sand that shimmered with litter in sunlight: plastic bags lolled their heads in the constant wind, half-buried glass bottles stuck their radiant necks out of the sand, varieties of seaweed lay wasted like old mop cloths, and the sea breeze was forever at work scrubbing sand on everything that interrupted its movement."

It's a powerful book with a big heart that made my own heart feel bigger.

Readalikes: Behind the Beautiful Forevers (Katherine Boo); Five Star Billionaire (Tash Aw); In Other Rooms, Other Wonders (Daniyal Mueenuddin); Love Enough (Dionne Brand); and Between the Assassinations (Aravind Adiga).

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