Not since childhood has Faraz returned to the Mohalla, Lahore's infamous walled inner city, where women still pass down the profession of courtesan to their daughters. But he still remembers the day he was abducted from the home he shared with his mother and sister there, at the direction of his powerful father, who wanted to give him a chance at a respectable life. Now Wajid, once more dictating his fate from afar, has sent Faraz back to Lahore, installing him as head of the Mohalla police station and charging him with a mission: to cover up the violent death of a young kanjari.
... quietly stunning...stunning not only on account of the writer’s talent, of which there is clearly plenty, but also in its humanity, in how a book this unflinching in its depiction of class and institutional injustice can still feel so tender ... Given that perhaps the most exhausted narrative container in American cultural life is the murder investigation... it would be easy for readers and booksellers to categorize this story as something in that vein. But Ahmad has taken on an entirely different kind of storytelling. Over the sweep of the novel’s middle, and especially in its quiet yet crushing conclusion, the fullness of the characters and their intersecting lives makes this far more than a murder mystery ... Where the novel sags, it’s when the narrative broadens from its tight focus into intergenerational saga. But it is a short interlude; the characters are too real, as is the violent collision of their scheming and resignation, the depths of their wanting ... It is difficult to write a novel like this one and not contend with a spectrum of violence. There is immense misery in this book. Ahmad has done her research, and the world she constructs is fictional, but tethered to the world as it was, and in some places still is ... At the line level, Ahmad has a habit of wielding softness against the most grotesque scenes, giving them an intimacy anything louder would likely wash out ... Ahmad’s compassion and deep care for the psychological and emotional nuances of her characters never wavers, no matter how monstrous or self-interested or defeated they become ... extends through generations and transformations of place, all the way to a devastating final chapter, fully human, fully engaged with what makes us human, no matter the size of the wounds or the immunity of those who inflict them. The powerful might often escape consequences, Ahmad shows, but life without these is its own kind of poverty, its own miserable inheritance.
This a nuanced, many-faceted story, fraught with complex interrelations of ethnicity, class and politics, of a man trying to unlock the secrets of his past so that he might discover who he is in the present. A first-rate literary mystery with the emphasis on literary.
With each character’s journey, author Ahmad explores the multifaceted nature of longing and loss and what the loneliness they engender is all for. This novel has everything a reader could ask for: a sizzling, noirlike plot; political intrigue juxtaposed with a rich intergenerational family saga; capacious, conflicted characters, including women who may be marginalized by society but are masters of their own narratives; and sublime sentences. A debut novelist, Ahmad manages this complexity seamlessly ... A feat of storytelling not to be missed.