Kartography by Kamila Shamsie

Kartography is my book from Pakistan for the Read The World challenge. It’s a novel set in Karachi in the 90s with flashbacks to the 70s and particularly the 1971 civil war when East Pakistan became Bangladesh. Raheen and Karim have a tangled relationship which parallels, and is haunted by, the tangled relationships of their parents twenty years earlier. It’s a love story, a family saga, a book about ethnic and class tensions in Pakistan.

Given that the Read The World challenge has lead me to some pretty obscure and unusual books, it was a nice change of speed to be reading some mainstream literary fiction that was actually written in English. But I wasn’t blown away by this one. I was quite pleased with it when I first picked it up: Shamsie can certainly write, and it’s well observed and lively… but after a while it started to annoy me slightly. The dramatic contrivances are just a bit too contrived and a bit too relentless: every page has to ratchet up the emotional tension, so there’s a constant stream of twists and misunderstanding and surprises. There’s never a lull or a pause; it’s a bit soap-operaish in its piling up of plot devices.

So I didn’t hate it, but I probably could have found a better book for a country like Pakistan. Quite possibly I would have enjoyed one of Shamsie’s other books more, for that matter. But there you go; win some lose some.

» How fast you want to go? is © Edge of Space and used under a CC by-nc licence.

2 replies on “Kartography by Kamila Shamsie”

I haven’t read anything by Shamsie, but a couple of novels by Pakistani writers I have enjoyed are:

“Cracking India” by Bapsi Sidhwa (1991)

“The Reluctant Fundamentalist” by Mohsin Hamid (2007)

Thanks for the suggestions… I think I considered the Hamid one, but ended up taking a punt on Shamsie.

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