Friday, February 1, 2013

4/52 Among Muslims: Meetings at the frontiers of Pakistan by Kathleen Jamie

A travel memoir of sorts, Kathleen Jamie's Among Muslims was originally published in 1996 but took on added poignancy after 9/11. At this point Jamie was contacted by a publisher who sent her back to Pakistan to revisit the people and places she had written about so vividly, and these new experiences and reflections are found in the Epilogue and Prologue (which turned out to be my favourite parts of the book).

On her return trip, Jamie is struck by the changes in both herself and the women she met a decade earlier and calls her friends. On her last visit she was a single woman, this time around married and with two children:

"Contraception. The price of dresses. Maternity leave. Housework, babies, our students, and their lax attitudes. Our suddenly elderly parents. What happened to the peace, and no worries? I could have been at home, except I was cross-legged on the floor, and all my friends were wrapped in shawls, and I was on the other side of the world."

Her thoughts on the role of a travel writer reveal the approach she takes to her subject:

"We all have duties and tasks, and mine, as travel-writer, is to our common humanity. Travel-writing is less about place than people, it describes people's lives. How can we acknowledge our common humanity without showing something of that humanity? How can we show that families are pretty much like families, without revealing something of each other, of ourselves? Who draws the line, when we write about decent, ordinary people? The writer does, that's the truth of it."

I read this book in a couple of days, and it is the lives of the women that I found most interesting but that is by no means the sole focus of the book. In parts it reminded me of a book I read many years ago (and highly recommend) Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks. And while I'm recommending other books if you have not yet read Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi then please do.


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