It’s been over a year that I wrote anything for my blog, and ironically the book that made me want to restart my reviews is a book whose author I interviewed in my last post over a year ago.
Awais Khan’s new book No Honour has recently been released in the UK and now in Pakistan. I remember when I was at Cambridge, UK for the launch of Khan’s first book In The Company of Strangers, where he then talked about his upcoming book. My mom’s question to him whether his new book would perpetuate stereotyped ideas about honor killings in Pakistan. Khan had assured us that his new book will not be a book pandering to the West who like such topics.
In all honesty, I too felt the same sentiment that my mom did: will No Honour be just another book by a Pakistani talking about honour killings, and showing Pakistan in a bad light? I mean, there is a lot more happening in Pakistan, so why choose a topic that gives the world a reason to see Pakistan in a such a light.
I am truly very happy to say that after reading No Honour, that fear of mine disappeared completely, and what helped this were the first few chapters. The notion that Pakistan would be seen under a negative light was completely dispelled as I followed the lives of the two main characters.
No Honour is a book that follows two characters, one is Abida, a 16 year old girl from the village of Khan Wala, and two, Jamil, Abida’s father. We get to follow their stories through both their perspective.
The book opens up in a typical rural village in Pakistan, where Abida is the eldest of her family of five siblings and two parents, Jamil and Farida. It is a village where the Pir Sahab has a grip on the residents; Pir Sahan is the judge, jury and executioner. Abida is a teenager, who longs to escape the claustrophobic environs of her village. She also has a lover Kalim who she longs to marry. She is also pregnant, which she wants to hide from everyone.
She is eventually caught out, and Pir Sahab punishes Abida through drowning. That’s her and her unborn child’s fate- to die by drowning. Jamil, Abida’s father, steps in and attempts to save her daughter.
This sets the book in motion, where Abida eventually escapes to Lahore with her lover, and somehow disappears. She cannot be found anywhere, which propels Jamil to come to Lahore to search for his daughter.
Lahore is an unforgiving city, as experienced by both Abida and Jamil. The myriad characters, some good and some evil, who Abida and Jamil encounters makes it challenging for them to reunite. Does Jamil find his daughter? Can Abida escape the situation she is stuck to? Will the father be able to reunite with his daughter?
I have to be honest, reading the first few chapters of the book is what drew me in. Khan has a penchant for doing this to his readers (if you remember the opening of his first book In The Company of Stranger about a suicide bomber at the marketplace, you will know what I mean). No Honor opens up with the snatching of a new born baby that is eventually killed by drowning. Then to read about Abida’s own experience of being sentenced to death by drowning from her own perspective made me have an immersive experience into what really goes in the mind of Abida. It’s no doubt scary, but it also brings out anger towards these self proclaimed men who think they have a right over other people’s lives.
The shift between the two perpsectives allow for the readers to feel what’s really going on in the mind of the two main characters. Soon, the book really became more about the special bond that daughters have with their fathers. I had forgotten about my initial fear about the book perptuating stereotypes, and became more concerned about Jamily being able to find his daughter. At times it reminded me of books by Khaled Hosseini in his depiction of family relationships.
In a book like, the city become a third character, and in this case it’s Lahore. Since I am from Lahore, I love reading books about my hometown. Khan has taken us into the inner areas of Lahore, areas that I haven’t really ventured into, and just made me feel like Lahore is indeed a city of contradcitons. Having said that, I wish there a little more on the city of Lahore– the smells, the sounds, the taste of foods– something to give us a more immersive experience of the inner city of Lahore.
I will also say that Khan has vastly improved from his first book. The words are more powerful. The characters are vivid and real. The pacing is just about right. Most importantly, I felt reading No Honour was an immersive experience for me to be a part of Abida’s and Jamil’s lives- I had to remind myself over and over that this is a work of fiction, as I would slip into thinking I am actually reading about an actual girl who had to go through all this.
I have to admit, the ground reality is that honor killings exist in Pakistan. Khan has indeed written about an issue that needs to be discussed more often, that needs to be challenged and put a stop to. Thankfully, Khan stays away from making his book merely something that panders to the Western readers.
No Honour is a book that is relevant for today’s time. Femicide is on the increase in Pakistan. Eleven rape cases are reported daily in Pakistan. Women don’t feel safe. As a psychotherapist, every single of my family clients have talked about feeling unsafe, moreso in urban areas. Just today, a female judge Ayesha Malik who was elected to become a judge in the Supreme Court wasn’t allowed to become one as several male judges blocked her nomination.
A book like No Honour is a perfect way to keep the dialouge active about women’s lives in Pakistan. If we continue to brush important challenges such as honour killings under the carpet, we won’t be able to work on it. So thank you Awais Khan for writing such a great book, to allow for us to see what really happens in our villages, and two, for using your talent to write a book to raise concerns about honour killings.
The more girls she helped, the more she thought of the ones left to suffer their fates in silence, There has been a lot of noise in the government about cracking down on the those who killed for honour but that’s what she had never understood. Honour. A word that had brought death to counteless girls. How was it that a bunch of men sitting under a peepal tree got to decide whether a woman was honourable or not? How was it that they had a right to pass judgment on whatever she had or hadn’t done, that they the the audacity to rip a women’s shirt and stone her to death. Or to drown her in a river. Why didn’t these jirgas have female representation? (page 288)