Drawing on interviews and in-depth research, Sanam Maher pieces together Qandeel Baloch's life from the village where she grew up in the backwaters of rural Pakistan, to her stint in a women's shelter after escaping her marriage, to her incarnation as a social media sensation, to her eventual murder at the hands of her brother.
... unfolds like a thriller, only it’s true ...Maher’s investigation of Baloch’s life and death is remarkable: It is not just the story of one rebellious woman but a study of an entire country and culture in collision with the new demands of the Internet, reality TV and women determined to shake off old strictures. Maher, a journalist based in Karachi, is a patient and transparent narrator, telling us where accounts conflict, which interviewees are unreliable and what questions must go unanswered. Her style of writing — stark and sometimes poetic — befits her subject ... commendable when so many journalists got Baloch’s story wrong ... Maher does not glorify her subject ... a refreshingly complicated portrait ... Maher’s book is both intimate and sweeping: It gives readers a deep sense of who Baloch was, about the world that created her and why so many people couldn’t stop watching. Admirably, Maher gives us no easy answers. But one takeaway is clear: In a place where worlds are colliding, and honor is on the line, it is often women who pay the price.
In A Woman Like Her, an exemplary work of investigative journalism, Sanam Maher delves into the story of a woman as misunderstood in death as in life. Maher conducted hundreds of interviews — with Baloch’s family, the media, mullahs, feminist activists, experts in cybercrime — to indict the society that enabled and applauded Baloch’s murder. Waseem Azeem and his associates killed Qandeel Baloch, Maher argues, but they did not act alone ... Baloch cannot speak for herself, and Maher allows her to remain elusive, a figure who fashioned her public face out of truth, yearning and exaggeration, and who possessed a dogged insistence on living her life on her own terms. Her book attempts to tell a broader story exploring the fractures opened in Pakistan by social media, which offers and even encourages a kind of freedom and daring of self-presentation that exist in deep conflict with a conservative society.
... compelling and disturbing ... [an] intricately wrought work of reportage ... With such a public subject, what could there be left to tell? Maher answers that question handily, and originally. A Woman Like Her is a model of how to report on celebrity: by focusing on the seedy characters who feed and exploit it, and by harvesting the details, especially at the seam between public and private, that more conventional journalists leave behind. Maher has an often thrillingly slant gaze, an eye alert to the absurdities, ironies and small tragedies at play in the manufacture of images and personas. Her book is full of unforgettable scenes and vignettes ... Among Maher’s wise choices is to accept that the very publicness of Baloch’s life makes her, on some level, unknowable ... this is a dark book, in which loyalty and kindness are outdone by exploitation and cruelty ... Maher excels at finding the bit players who often seem to have more power than the main cast ... Maher astutely probes how laws meant to protect women from harassment can also be used to control and punish blasphemers, minorities and critics of the military government ... I wish she had done more to examine Facebook’s power in Pakistan, which she alludes to but never fully explicates ... More Pakistani history might have been helpful for readers unfamiliar with how the country’s enmity with India, its Islamist parties and its military elite have shaped its mores and culture. At the same time, the profusion of details can become too much, the chronology of where we are in Baloch’s life difficult to sort out. But these are small quibbles. A Woman Like Her is the story of a woman who was a survivor, until she wasn’t. It’s also a map of the savage underworld we’ve made.