Genre Hampers Pakistani Family's Tale
In this work of literary non-fiction, Haroon K. Ullah attempts to do for the average middle-class family in Pakistan what journalist Asne Seierstad did for their Afghani counterparts in her bestseller The Bookseller of Kabul. Unfortunately for Ullah, despite his extensive expertise as a researcher, he's not quite able to make the same impact as a writer.
The Bargain from the Bazaar is based on the real-life events surrounding the Reza family between 2008 and 2012 in Lahore, Pakistan, and set against the backdrop of post-9/11 geopolitics: failed attempts to block the influences of the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan, a surge in local suicide bombings, corruption of Pakistani officials and the continual bombardment by U.S. drones.
The story follows the lives of shop owner Awais Reza, his wife Shez and their three adult sons, Salman, Daniyal and Kamran. Just as Awais represents the "everyman" of Pakistan, each son symbolizes one of the many conflicting forces at play in Pakistani society today: tradition, extremism and modernity.
While Salman is trained to take over the family business and Kamran attends law school, it is Daniyal who, unbeknownst to his family, is recruited on a suicide-bombing mission by the imam at his madrassah. To Ullah's credit, it's the "does-he/doesn't-he" question that successfully motivates the reader to keep turning the pages to the very end.
Ullah's intention to bring to light the challenges affecting the average family in today's Pakistan is a worthy one. With a country so marked by negative media portrayals and infamous for its political corruption, too often the depth and diversity of the peoples and the cultures are forgotten or disregarded.
In the author's note, Ullah is keen to point out the extent to which he researched this book: hundreds of interviews with Pakistanis of all backgrounds including Taliban and al-Qaida operatives, eight years of field research and witnessing key events first-hand.
Despite all this, it is Ullah's decision to present his work in the format of a novel that is his downfall. The genre of literary non-fiction is a fine balancing act between staying true to facts and presenting complex and nuanced human experiences through emotive literary devices. …