South Asian fiction has been one of my favourite genres ever since I started reading. Even when I lived in Pakistan, it would be a welcome change from the dominant Western literature we would be exposed to in our schools. So reading a familiar name or street in an English-language novel would be a big deal to a teenage me.
Now, I live in Vancouver in a state of duality. Homesickness would be an understatement. It is more a feeling of nostalgia, regret and painful longing mixed together. Choosing Kartography by Kamila Shamsie to read in this state evoked a wave of emotions I didnt realize I was harbouring inside.
So rarely has a book tugged on my heartstrings in its fine retelling of Karachi’s ethnic violence and the human stories in its backdrop. Kartography is the story of Raheen and Karim, who are buddies from the crib with a complicated family history. Their parents were fiances but swapped partners in the complex ethnic biases that were teeming during the civil war of 1971 in Pakistan.
The political backdrop has been carefully woven with interpersonal relations. However, what moved me most is the introspection of characters themselves which was relatable to me as a upper middle-class resident of Karachi .
The combination of guilt and resentment within many Karachiites was captured elegantly in interactions of Zia, Karim and Raheen with other characters on the streets of Karachi.
Another relatable aspect for me was also the immigrant nostalgia and guilt upon returning. It is reflected beautifully in the letters of Raheen and Karim. When you’ve gone abroad to study, you’re making a conscious choice yet something inside you keeps pulling you back. Often its because of the place, or memories or people but then you find upon returning its not the same as before. I got the sense from Raheen that she yearned for the carefree nature of her relationship with Karim, Zia and their parents as in their childhood but so much changes when yiu know more as an adult.
I am so glad I read Kartography when I did. At this point in my life I could appreciate it more than ever, and the freshness of raw emotions evoked by a novel is a great feeling. Who knows this one might be one I keep coming back to!