In My Hands Today…

The House of Bilqis: A Novel – Azhar Abidi

9780670019410-usA haunting novel about a mother and son and the emotional consequences of leaving home

Bilqis Ara Begum, an aristocratic widow, is dismayed when her only son, Samad, marries Kate, an Australian girl, and settles in Melbourne rather than returning home to Pakistan. Though Samad attempts to persuade his mother to join them in Australia, she insists on remaining in Karachi even while Pakistan is facing turmoil. It’s 1985. The mullahs and the generals are in control, and an insurgency is beginning in Kashmir. Meanwhile, Bilqis’s servant girl, Mumtaz, enters a relationship with Omar, a young man caring for a neighboring house. Omar is an intense man who resents Pakistan’s class system, and his frustration leads him to the freedom movement in Kashmir. But Mumtaz is in love and willing to sacrifice her honor to be with him.

The intertwining stories of Bilqis, Samad, and Mumtaz offer a powerful and nuanced portrait of Pakistan in the modern era-a place of conflicting loyalties, rich with history and culture, and plagued by violence. Abidi’s precise and elegant prose illuminates the struggle between a mother and son to reconcile their love for each other with their love for home.

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