Season of the Rainbirds
March 26, 2013
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". . .first, exceptional novel . . ."
Nadeem Aslam exquisitely portrays in rich poetic language the emotional upheaval in a modern-day small Pakistani village during a week-long period triggered by a discovered packet of undelivered letters. In his first, exceptional novel, “Season of Rainbirds,” Judge Anwar’s recent murder is linked to the unearthed mail pouch lost two decades previously in a train wreck, and villagers speculate they may contain evidence of the judge’s corruption and involvement in election fraud.
Aslam develops this drama around a few well-defined characters whose interaction creates a complex tragic mosaic. Aged cleric Maulana Hafeez has been ordered to boycott the delivery of the letters. Simultaneously, the community is nagging him to speak to Deputy Commissioner Ashar about his scandalous behavior — a Muslim, Ashar has a Christian mistress.
The central theme doesn’t focus on the contents of the lost 21 letters but rather deterioration of community fabric caused by speculation, “ … a reflection on gently disturbed water.” Rumors abound about a woman who supposedly killed herself after opening her letter, adding furor to the anticipation. Others fear the uncovered correspondence will provide evidence of a political assassination during the past election. Tensions escalate when an arriving journalist meets with the outspoken Yusuf Rao, a lawyer and former political activist shot and wounded during recent campaigning.
Aslam laces aesthetic images with precise dialogue: Monsoon rains, and a woman sweeping up water lizards which “crawled out from between the cracks at the base of the outside wall and scuttled about the street.” He paints a compelling portrait about a place where he grew up, grappling with once-hidden, now surfacing secrets, “the whole town … humming with the news.” It is unique, but still could be anywhere.
Reviewer: Kate Padilla