This review for Jamil Ahmad’s The Wandering Falcon might easily be the most difficult one I’ve ever had to write. It’s months later, and I still cannot for the life of me wrap my mind around this book or how I feel about it.
Let’s start with a few simple facts:
- Originally penned as a collection of short stories depicting nomadic life of tribes in the deserts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Ahmad later wove them together to create a novel.
- The writing is sharp, clear, and direct and infused with a religious undercurrent that gave the whole thing a Biblical feel.
- I hated it. And I feel guilty about hating it.
To be brutally honest, I just didn’t enjoy the experience of reading this book. I have never liked the sort of sparse, formal language Ahmad employs. It seemed obvious that these stories were never originally intended to be a novel and I have never really enjoyed reading a short story collection in one fell swoop. On top of that, I felt like I had no frame of reference to understand what Ahmad wanted to share with me through these stories.
While I absolutely felt like I was learning something about a culture I knew nothing about, I also couldn’t figure out some of the grander themes of the book. I didn’t know what Ahmad wanted me to get out of this journey. By the final page, I felt completely baffled. The book was over and it was as if I had no idea what had just happened.
Worst of all, since this book is such a perfect storm of aspects and styles I dislike in any writing, I have no idea how much of my failure to understand this book is the author’s and how much is my own. Though I try my best, I can’t help but be less engaged in a book I’m not enjoying.
I wanted to like The Wandering Falcon, I really did.
It actually started out so strongly, that I was shocked at the way my attitude changed. Vibrant descriptions either faded away or I was so un-engrossed with the story that I stopped noticing them.
I don’t know if this is a cop out—I suspect it might be. But I honestly think that my own ignorance prevents me from giving this book an accurate review. The question haunting me is whether its fair to judge a book so harshly when the real issue might be my own limited perspective?
Unlike The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which didn’t necessarily enthrall me, but whose writing was phenomenal, I had nothing to cling to in The Wandering Falcon.
It’s a short read, so if your interest is piqued there won’t be any real time lost if you give it a try. I just can’t bring myself to make a suggestion either way.