Book 9 of my #20booksofsummer, Review no 166

Shadow of the Crescent Moon is the debut novel of Pakistani writer Fatima Bhutto. The novel, published in 2013, is set primarily in the real life town of Mir Ali, a north-western Pakistani town close to the Afghan border, and follows the stories of five young people – three brothers, and two young women important to them – in the post-2001 environment, amid the controversial US military action in the region and the impact of the Taliban.

Oldest brother Aman Erum is an aspirational young man, a budding entrepreneur, recently returned to Mira Lee after seizing the opportunity to study a business studies degree in the USA. The middle brother, Sikandar, is a hospital doctor, whose wife Mina seems to have been unhinged by grief after the death of their young son in a Taliban attack. Finally, youngest brother Hayat is a radical insurgent, as is the beautiful Samara, who also has history as the oldest brother’s long-distance girlfriend.

All are gravely affected by the influence of political Islam, and by the environment of violence and instability. The book’s focus is the events of a single morning, which culminate in act of betrayal, one that can be interpreted in at least two ways.

Bhutto is no stranger to politics and no stranger to violent loss. Her father was the murdered left-wing politician/militant Murtaza Bhutto, her aunt was the assassinated former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her grandfather was the Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was sentenced to death in 1979.

The strengths of the book are its insights into the lives, difficulties and dilemmas of ordinary people living in complicated and often devastating times. It is also adept at highlighting the reasons why young people might be drawn to radical Islam and acts that can often seem incomprehensible, even mad, from a Western viewpoint.

However, the writing itself was not as accomplished: I found there was too much exposition and a distinct lack of nuance, compared with another Pakistani writer that I adore, Kamila Shamsie. Also, although it was essentially a book that unfolds over the space of a single morning, there was so much backstory and flitting around in time that the narrative device simply didn’t work.

If you’re a fan of hot actor Riz Ahmed, by the way, it’s worth noting that he reads the audiobook version of the novel.

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