The Wandering Falcon
By Jamil Ahmad
(Riverhead Trade, Paperback, 9781594486166, 256pp.)
Publication Date: October 2, 2012
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For readers of Khaled Hosseini, Daniyal Mueenuddin, and Mohsin Hamid, a remarkable, award-winning book about the tribes of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In this extraordinary tale, Tor Baz, the young boy descended from both chiefs and outlaws who becomes the Wandering Falcon, moves between the tribes of Pakistan and Afghanistan and their uncertain worlds full of brutality, humanity, deep love, honor, poverty, and grace. The wild area he travels -- the Federally Administered Tribal Area -- has become a political quagmire known for terrorism and inaccessibility. Yet in these pages, eighty-year-old debut author Jamil Ahmad lyrically and insightfully reveals the people who populate those lands, their tribes and traditions, and their older, timeless ways in the face of sometimes ruthless modernity. This story is an essential glimpse into a hidden world, one that has enormous geopolitical significance today and still remains largely a mystery to us.
Jamil Ahmad is a storyteller in the classic sense -- there is an authenticity and wisdom to his writing that harkens back to another time. The Wandering Falcon reminds us why we read and how vital fiction is in opening new worlds to our imagination and understanding.
Jamil Ahmad was born in 1930. He joined the Civil Service of Pakistan in 1954 and served mainly in the Frontier Province and Baluchistan. He was also development commissioner for the Frontier and chairman of the Tribal Development Corporation, and was posted as minister in Pakistan's embassy in Kabul at a critical time, before and during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He lives in Islamabad with his wife, Helga Ahmad, a nationally recognized environmentalist and social worker. This is his first book.
The Wandering Falcon is a collection of short fiction from Jamil Ahmad. Ahmad is an 80-year-old former Pakistani government official who is making his debut in fiction. More at NPR.org
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- How would you describe life within an itinerant tribe? What intrigues you about this kind of existence? Would you be cut out for the harsh realities of desert life?
Praise for The Wandering Falcon
Longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize
“Mr. Ahmad’s deep understanding of his characters shows what a powerful truth teller fiction can be.” —The New York Times
"The Wandering Falcon moves far beyond the Western media's stereotypical depiction of the tribal areas and lays bare the nature of a place that is now a focal point of U.S. and European foreign policy." —The Los Angeles Times
“[R]aw, visceral and fresh.... his novel penetrates. The outcome is so inexorable and matter of fact, the prose so lyrical and simple that the reader is chilled.... Ahmad writes, not from the vantage of a high-altitude drone, but close to the heartbeat of this intricate web of tribes and clans... [S]pare, beautiful and powered by understatement. The Wandering Falcon is a gem of a novel, disturbing in its scrutiny of a way of life that we in the West persist in attempting to alter.” — The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Tautly written… Fantastic… Drawn with tenderness but without sentimentality… Ahmad is a deft storyteller and his slim volume possesses a strong allure.” — Financial Times
“[F]inely crafted…. Mr. Ahmad writes with an insider’s knowledge, a careful attention to detail and an admirable restraint in his language. Metaphorical flourishes are rare and he is almost never judgmental. This is how the tribes live, he says, neither romanticising nor criticising their way of life. The Wandering Falcon is not a long book. But it is dense with nuance and offers uncommon insight into a land too often explained away as ‘the most dangerous place on earth’." — The Economist
“Illuminates one of the most perilous regions of the world. This book… engages your head as well as your heart… The early chapters are reminiscent of masterpieces like Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, which also features a boy alone in a gorgeous but harsh and often terrifying landscape… [A]ll the way through, the characters, the tales, and the landscape are rendered with clarity, sympathy, and insight. The author makes us travel with him… The book offers a rich picture of the ‘mountainous, lawless tribal areas’ we have previously known mainly for bullets and bombs.” — Steve Inskeep, NPR.org
“[I]n his stripped-down prose lies a beauty that is almost sublime.” — The New Republic
“[P]artake[s] of the power of myth and give[s] back to the reader the ambiguities of antique culture alive and well in the world of contemporary national borders…. Ahmad's voice is usually clear and sharp like the sound of plucked strings from a musical instrument.” — Alan Cheuse, NPR.org
"Superb. The work of a gifted story teller who has lived in the world of his fiction, and who offers his readers rare insight, wisdom and—above all—pleasure."
— Mohsin Hamid, author of Moth Smoke, The Reluctant Fundamentalist and How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia
“I’ve been talking about this book to anyone who will listen. From page one, I was transported to a land of nomadic tribes who live and die by ancestral codes. But The Wandering Falcon is not only about tribes. It is about honor, love, loyalty, and grace. And it is about borders--geographical, political, and personal. The terrain where Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan meet may be cruel and unforgiving, but every page of this book is filled with beauty and humanity. By the final pages, I found myself transformed.”
— Nami Mun, author of Miles from Nowhere
“In his first novel (at the age of 80), [Ahmad] proves a masterful guide to the landscape and to the captivating art of storytelling at its finest. This is a shadowy, enchanting journey…. Over the course of the novel, the mysterious Tor Baz ("Wandering Falcon") weaves in and out of view, remaining as elusive and magnetic to readers as he does to those he encounters; familiar to everyone, he belongs to no one…. A gripping book, as important for illuminating the current state of this region as it is timeless in its beautiful imagery and rhythmic prose.”
— Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW
“An accomplished and important debut novel…. [A] rare and sympathetic glimpse into a world that most Westerners know only through news reports related to military operations…. A fascinating journey; essential reading.”
— Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW