The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad


Traditions that have lasted for centuries, both brutal and beautiful, create a rigid structure for life in the wild, astonishing place where Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan meet—the Federally Administered Tribal Lands (FATA). It is a formidable world and the people who live there are constantly subjected to extremes—both of geography and of culture.
The Wandering Falcon begins with a young couple, refugees from their tribe, who have traveled to the middle of nowhere to escape the cruel punishments meted upon those who transgress the boundaries of marriage and family. Their son, Tor Baz, descended from both chiefs and outlaws, becomes “The Wandering Falcon,” a character who travels throughout the tribes, over the mountains and the plains, in the towns and tents that comprise the homes of the tribal people. The media today speak about this unimaginably remote region, a geopolitical hotbed of conspiracies, drone attacks, and conflict—now, told in the rich, dramatic tones of a master storyteller, this stunning, honor-bound culture is revealed from the inside.
Jamil Ahmad has written an unforgettable portrait of a world of custom and compassion, of love and cruelty, of hardship and survival, a place fragile, unknown, and unforgiving.

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Jamil Ahmad

256 pages

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2 reviews for The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad

    January 12, 2020
    NANDAKISHOR VARMA (A caveat at the beginning: I read this book in Malayalam translation, and pretty bad translation at that. It may be better in the original.) Jamil Ahmad was a civil servant in the Pakistan Civil Services, and he worked extensively in the hilly regions which serve as the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan (and Iran). These places are mostly inhabited by nomadic tribes who largely play by their own rules - nations and governments mean nothing to them. During his long tenure, Ahmad had the chance to interact with these people extensively, and this book is the result of those interactions. This could be called a picaresque novel - though it would be better to term it a set of connected stories, linked by the character Tor Baz (who is born in the first story and is seen as a young man, maybe in his thirties, in the last). The time period, though not explicitly mentioned, must be the years immediately after the British left the subcontinent. Pakistan as a fledgling state was in the throes of formation, and one can see the bewilderment of these wandering tribes in the sudden appearance of impermeable national boundaries. The novel starts with a couple of refugees reaching a border outpost: they are an illicitly wed couple on the run from the girl's father (who is the tribal chieftain) and her husband, whom she has abandoned to elope with her lover. They ask for asylum, which the soldiers cannot give, as they are forbidden to meddle in tribal matters. They agree to give them shelter, however - their stay drags on for a few years for the woman to give birth to a child, before they are discovered by her father's people. On the run again, nemesis finally catches up with them. The man does what they have always planned: he shoots the woman and their c, and offers up the five-year-old child to her father, as her daughter's blood and eligible for protection of the tribe. Then he meets his fate, which is being stoned to death for adultery. The child, however, is not taken by the tribe and left near the dead camel - to be discovered and rescued by a group of outcast Baluchis, in the next story: and the journey continues... This child (later named Tor Baz) is only an incidental character, just a plot device to connect these tales - in the later stories, his importance diminishes so that he becomes a mere shadow (and that is the main weakness of this book). The tales are actually about the various tribes of this wild region: the Baluchis, the Afridis, the Kharots, the Mahzoods, the Wazirs... and many others; about how these hardy people carry on with their lives in this practically inhospitable region, and the violence and rough justice that is part of their existence. The backdrop of the story is fascinating - however, after the initial chapters, the novel loses steam. The narrative is too jumbled to keep one's interest (the POV shifts to the first person for just one chapter - something I found totally bizarre), and Tor Baz is there just as sort of timekeeper, just to tell the readers that so many years have elapsed since the first tale. And the final two-three chapters were a real let-down: and the ending was totally lame. However, I give it three stars for introducing me to this enchanting universe
    January 12, 2020
    Jeanatte: This is pretty interesting for a novel with no continuous plot and no appreciable character development. It was written by an eighty-year-old man who had a long civil service career in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas around the Pakistan/Afghanistan border. This is where the book is set. The chapters are only loosely connected, giving a broad view of the customs, laws, and lifestyles of the numerous tribes occupying the region. Their values and attitudes are so foreign to the Western mind, it's no wonder we have so little success when we try to meddle in their affairs. Jamil Ahmad's writing is quite accomplished in its simplicity. It often has the quality of stories delivered in the oral tradition, but he adds more detail and nuance. The book is short on humor, but I laughed long and hard when a beautiful woman said to an ogling soldier, "You, there, who has been staring at me for a long time. Do you not know that you are smaller than my husband's organ?"
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