Book Review: ‘The Return Of Faraz Ali’ by Aamina Ahmad

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Book Title: The Return Of Faraz Ali
Author: Aamina Ahmad
Publisher: Tranquebar (Westland)
Number of Pages: 352
ISBN: 978-9395073370
Date Published: Apr. 24. 2023
Price: INR 633 (Hardcover)

The Return of Faraz Ali by Aamina Ahmad Book Cover

Book Review

The story starts in Lahore on 8th November 1968. Faraz, along with other police officers from Anarkali Police Station, was on winding streets and then were somewhere near Mochi Gate. The sound of the riot, though distant, was heard. He sensed the nerves of his officers, too, as they lined up next to him.

The Return of Faraz Ali” is a captivating debut novel by Aamina Ahmad that spans Pakistan’s historical backdrop, from the end of World War II to the establishment of Bangladesh. Faraz is the son of Wajid, a renowned politician, and Firdous, a sex worker who lives in Mohalla, Lahore’s walled red-light district.

Faraz was taken away from the Mohalla at five by his father, who claimed it was for his good. On the other hand, Wajid never officially recognized Faraz as his son, ignoring the emotional toll of abruptly removing him from his mother, Firdous, and his half-sister, Rozina. Instead, Faraz was placed in the care of distant relatives with less authority. When Faraz ultimately became a police officer, Wajid felt his mission complete.

Faraz returns to the old city as an adult in 1968, working as a cop, to investigate the death of a young lady who worked as a mujra, a sex worker, and was last seen with one of Lahore’s most influential politicians. Wajid decided to collect Faraz’s “debt” to him. He requested him to oversee a special inquiry into the “accidental killing” of a 12-year-old sex worker in the Mohalla. Faraz’s return to the Mohalla elicits deep recollections and emotions, influencing the investigation’s outcome.

The story moves back and forth in the timelines. The narrative jumps around in time, beginning in World War II, when a younger Wajid, serving as a British Empire soldier, is caught and imprisoned in a run-down P.O.W. camp in Libya. Author Aamina Ahmad explores class and gender hierarchies through the shifting perspectives of Wajid, Faraz, and Rozina.

The novel goes further into a panoramic social-realist condemnation of Pakistan’s entrenched military and political elites and their predatory and exploitative connections with lower-class women and girls.

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Ahmad provides an incredibly immersive reading experience by not translating the constant stream of cultural allusions or the characters’ Urdu vernacular for non-native readers. Some readers might not appreciate this, though her trust in them allows everyone to follow her protagonists deeper into the maze of a shadowy conspiracy that intersects with major events in modern Pakistani history during the late 1960s and early 1970s: Ayub’s military dictatorship, Bhutto’s political rise, and the Bangladesh war for independence. But the language and the narration are worth appreciating.

The book begins with an explanatory pulse about a death cover-up. From this moment, the narrative develops into a mosaic of self-discovery in a complex society. With her writing skills and story-telling expertise, this debut book by Aamina Ahmad is highly recommended to view the world from a different set of spectacles.

The book review was first published in Storizen Magazine May 2023 issue.