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Reviews of The Return of Faraz Ali by Aamina Ahmad

The Return of Faraz Ali

A Novel

by Aamina Ahmad

The Return of Faraz Ali by Aamina Ahmad X
The Return of Faraz Ali by Aamina Ahmad
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    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2022, 352 pages

    Apr 2023, 352 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Book Summary

Sent back to his birthplace - Lahore's notorious red-light district - to hush up the murder of a girl, a man finds himself in an unexpected reckoning with his past.

Not since childhood has Faraz returned to the Mohalla, in Lahore's walled inner city, where women continue to pass down the art of courtesan from mother to daughter. 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 girl.

It should be a simple assignment to carry out in a marginalized community, but for the first time in his career, Faraz finds himself unable to follow orders. As the city assails him with a jumble of memories, he cannot stop asking questions or winding through the walled city's labyrinthine alleyways chasing the secrets—his family's and his own—that risk shattering his precariously constructed existence.

Profoundly intimate and propulsive, The Return of Faraz Ali is a spellbindingly assured first novel that poses a timeless question: Whom do we choose to protect, and at what price?


Lahore, 8th November 1968

Faraz stared into the fog, sensing the movement of men, their animals. As the mist shifted and stretched, he glimpsed only fragments: the horns of a bull, the eyes of shawled men on a street corner, the blue flicker of gas cookers. But he heard everything. The whine of the wooden carts, the strike of a match, the snuffling of beasts.

He wasn't sure where he and his men were. They had been led by the officers from Anarkali Police Station through winding streets and now they were somewhere near Mochi Gate, one of the twelve doorways to the walled city, but that was all he knew. The sound of the riot was distant, like the static of radio. The street vendors who'd lingered longer than they should have were nervous now; they dropped their wares as they packed up their things, clipped their animals and their apprentices about the ears, berating them for being too slow. He sensed the nerves of his officers, too, as they lined up next to him. He was jittery ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. By virtue of his history and lineage, Faraz Ali is a man without a secure identity or place in the world. How does his sense of contingency reflect on the society in which he lives? How does the mission with which he is charged at the outset of the book become a quest to claim, or reclaim, a more genuine sense of self?
  2. At times, the book is told from the perspective of Faraz's father, Wajid, as a young man fighting in Africa during World War II. How does this history add to our understanding of who Wajid becomes, and how does it color the relationship between him and Faraz?
  3. In addition to the father-son relationship, the book explores mother-daughter relationships, primarily between Firdous and Rozina, and Rozina and Mina. How does each...
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BookBrowse Review


Each character's journey is heartbreaking and unforgettable. I was particularly intrigued by the women portrayed throughout the novel, most of whom are viewed with disdain by Pakistani society — throwaway people who nevertheless find a way to survive. This remarkable debut has a lot of depth, but the downside is that it's not a quick read. I didn't feel like it dragged or was a slog in any way, but it also didn't have much forward momentum, its overwhelming emphasis being on character development...continued

Full Review (594 words)

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(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

New York Times
The Return of Faraz Ali — 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...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.

Minneapolis Star Tribune
Ahmad's real gift is in the specificity of detail. Each chapter is a feat of style, steeped in the sights, sounds and poetry of Pakistan and South Asia. Yet the beauty of the prose also blots out the plot. The narrative energy flags. The chapters sometimes feel bloated. Still, the distinctiveness of the novel shines in its exquisite prose and the author's capacious vision. The novel's final impression transcends suffering in a note of survival, even triumph.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
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.

Library Journal (starred review)
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.

Publishers Weekly
[A] simmering debut...Ahmad shines the most in her piercing observations of the marginalized and oppressed...It is this keen eye for the vicissitudes of human life that, despite an uneven whole, demonstrates Ahmad's promise.

Author Blurb Adam Johnson, author of The Orphan Master's Son and Fortune Smiles
Aamina Ahmad has done the impossible: made her literary debut with an enduring classic. Essential and compelling.

Author Blurb Maaza Mengiste, author of "The Shadow King
The Return of Faraz Ali heralds the arrival of a strikingly accomplished and mature talent. Ahmad has managed to meld fast-paced, intelligent noir with a devastating portrait of the true costs of ambition and desire. Does not let you go, even after the end.

Author Blurb Yaa Gyasi, author of Homegoing
A rich and deeply moving novel about confronting histories both personal and political. Marvelous.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book


Promotional poster from Bollywood film TawaifAamina Ahmad's debut novel, The Return of Faraz Ali, takes place in 1968 in Lahore's red-light district, and several of the characters are tawaifs — sex workers.

"Tawaif" comes from the Urdu word "tauf," which means to go round and round. While the term is considered derogatory now, originally it was one of respect for a highly-skilled courtesan in what was then North India. These women were well-regarded and generally moved in the highest circles, including the royal court. They were entertainers proficient in music and dancing, valued for their ability to socialize with the elite men of the time. They had wealth, power and prestige, and were considered the last word in etiquette; having a tawaif attend one's celebration was a ...

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