From the book jacket: Jugnu and his lover, Chanda, have disappeared. Though unmarried, they had been living together, embracing the contemporary mores of the English town where they lived but disgracing themselves in the eyes of their close-knit Pakistani community. Rumors about their disappearance abound, but five months go by before anything certain is known. Finally, on a snow-covered January morning, Chandas brothers are arrested for the murder of their sister and Jugnu.
Shock and disbelief spread through the community, and for Jugnus brother, Shamas, and his wife, Kaukab, it is a moment that marks the beginning of the unraveling of all that is sacred to them. As the novel unfolds over the next twelve months, we watch Kaukab struggle to maintain her Islamic piety as the effects of the double murder prove increasingly corrosive to the life of her family.
Comment: Maps For Lost Lovers, set in 1997 Britain, was published in the UK in 2004 to great acclaim, and received similar praise in the USA when it was published in hardcover in 2005, although some have commented that Aslam overdoes the metaphors and similes. In the words of Kirkus Reviews, "the great and genuine strength here is the fairness with which Aslam presents all viewpoints....But Aslam overstates and sentimentalizes Shamas' selfless saintly decency, and drowns the story in a gratuitously exotic and sensuous hothouse atmosphere evoked by ludicrously strained imagery....Often exquisite; too often, too much of a good thing."
Others offer unequivocal praise, for example The Guardian, UK describes it as "a remarkable achievement", The Economist says it is "a novel of extraordinary quality [that] Islamists would be foolish to try and make political mischief out of it, while western readers would be foolish to ignore such a carefully crafted work", and Books Quarterly considers it to be "a Persian love poem for the 21st century".
Although there are times when, to my prosaic Western ears, the imagery does seem to be a bit much, I find it difficult to glibly criticize the book for this alone, especially when I take into account the apparent time and effort that went into writing it (see sidebar). This is not something that would normally color my opinion, but in this case it's enough for me to ask myself, every time I feel that he's laying things on a bit thick, whether the metaphor is there gratuitously to puff out a paragraph or whether, perhaps, he had a specific reason for choosing it! As always, you can judge for yourself by reading a substantial excerpt at BookBrowse.
Nadeem Aslam was born in 1966 in Gujranwala, Pakistan and had his first short story published when he was 13, in Urdu in a Pakistani newspaper. He came to Britain at the age of 14 (some sources say he was 15) when his communist father (a former poet and film director, now garbage collector and factory worker) fled President Zia's regime and settled the family in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. He went to Manchester University to read biochemistry but left in his third year to become a writer.
His first book, Seasons of the Rainbirds was published in 1993 and won two awards. He used the money from these two awards and various grants to finance the writing of this, his second novel, which he thought would take 2 years but actually took 11.
After two years he stopped writing the novel altogether in order to develop 100 page biographies of the main characters so that "I fully understood what this family was. Then I was six years into the writing and in deep financial trouble....but it had to be done."
This review was originally published in May 2005, and has been updated for the May 2006 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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