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August 11 , 2008

The Fifth Lash and Other Stories


All we hear about are lawlessness and violence, without social history or political context to fill out the picture. THE FIFTH LASH AND OTHER STORIES gives us a portrait of Pakistan, and Muslims in general, struggling to reason their way into a better future. Paranoia, self-hatred, delusion, insecurity, serfdom, surveillance, and denial have been some of the prevalent psychological motifs of the last decade; it's important to step outside their journalistic confines and move into the lyrical borderline where responsibility follows a two-way street and causes and consequences become muddled and merged, and this is what the book seeks to do. The old securities everywhere are gone; identities are switched and tried on and abandoned faster than ever; the media landscape saturates individual consciousness, and makes lies out of centuries of tradition and heroes of plastic idols. THE FIFTH LASH AND OTHER STORIES daringly enters this phantasmagoric cauldron, where appearance and reality have seamlessly blended, to complicate the picture even further, to turn all we think we know about Islam and Pakistan on its head. The "truth" will never set you free, is the ironic signature of the original voice defining this collection. These new stories from Shivani (Anatolia & Other Stories), many set in Pakistan, parse the disconnect between public and private behavior, and the desires that must be muted in order for people to survive. In “Love in a Time of Communication,” Javed, a young worker at General Tires in Karachi, tries to get his parents a phone line while dreaming of love for himself. Social mores come into play often, such as in “The Abscess of the World,” which follows David, an American student, to Karachi to feed his fascination with Islamic law, while his Pakistani roommate at Princeton, Agha, looks to leave his past behind and work on Wall Street. In “The House on Bahadur Shah Zafar Road,” the course of young Abid’s life, full of A-levels study, dreams of Oxford, and first love, contrasts sharply with that of the family’s young servant girl who has become pregnant. “The Censor” traces the constantly changing rules about what is or isn’t permissible on the public airwaves; numbered paragraphs offer first-person accounts such as “The new rules of kissing are, it’s allowed if it’s done Indian-style.... But no American kissing.” Shivani is a perceptive writer who puts his finger on the contradictions his characters navigate to survive daily life. – Publisher's Weekly
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