The Shadow of the Crescent Moon, by Fatima Bhutto.
The Shadow of the Crescent Moon, by Fatima Bhutto. Penguin Press (2015). Hardcover, 240 pages.
SOUTH ASIAN WOMEN WRITERS
A powerful and beautiful novel by a Pakistani woman about three brothers—and the women they love—caught between military tyranny and terrorism and forced to make hard choices.
Pakistan is a fractured country today, as anyone who keeps up with the news realizes. Fatima Bhutto brings its tragedy to life, revealing how the chaos impacts the individuals living through it. Born in 1982, Bhutto is part of the “cursed” political dynasty of Pakistan. Her grandfather was president of the country, but he was executed for his actions shortly before her birth. Her father was also a politician, shot down by the police when she was 14. Her aunt, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was killed when she returned to the country seeking to regain power in 2007. This novel, however, is set far from the center of power that her relatives occupied. Fatima Bhutto graduated from Columbia University in the United States and has a M.A. from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. She has worked as a journalist for a major newspaper in Pakistan and published several books including a memoir about her father, an account of the 2007 earthquake, and poetry. The Shadow of the Crescent Moon is her first novel.
Bhutto is an exceptional writer, not only in handling her fast-moving plot well but also in choosing the right words to carry her meaning and to jolt her readers. Her writing brings beauty and meaning to is basically a tragic story. She shares her perception that in turbulent regions like Pakistan, the burden of the past shapes the present. Her account is full of violence and destruction, but she handles its pain with grace, never allowing her story to become grim. At key moments, characters focus on details, such as the army man fidgeting with his wedding ring instead of the atrocities.
The novel is set in Mir Ali, a city in Waziristan, part of the tribal region of northern Pakistan. Its central characters are three brothers, the sons of a man, now dead, who resisted the domination of the central Pakistani government for many years. Each of his sons is different in personality and goals. The eldest brother is primarily interested in gaining wealth and the other advantages that are available in “the west.” The middle son wants to be a doctor and avoid the religious and cultural conflicts around him. Only the youngest son is receptive to his father’s stories and their call to push back on the power of the state. Although the novel is structured around the men, Bhutto told an interviewer for The Guardian that “In my mind, it was this story of three brothers and then these women took over, just like Pakistani women do.”
As their city celebrates Eid, each is involved in critical decisions. The action of the novel takes place on a single morning, with flashbacks of memories interrupting what is taking place. The story moves quickly between brother and brother and between past and present, often shifting at moments of high drama. Bhutto slowly and skillfully feeds information to readers building tension and suspense. For me, the book’s final revelations were a surprise, but one that made perfect sense.
This is a stunning book. I hope it is widely read.
I received this as a pre-publication ebook, thanks to Edelweiss and Penguin Press. I am grateful for receiving a copy.