The Scatter Here is Too Great by Bilal Tanweer

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The Scatter Here is Too Great by Bilal Tanweer

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Six disparate people relate their lives to us as everything leads up to one moment: a bomb explosion at a Karachi train station. A series of interesting stories incorporating fascinatingly rich snippets of Pakistani culture but not all the characters stand out as they should.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: August 2014
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 978-0224099110

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When the bomb exploded at the Karachi railway station causing intended death and mayhem, an aging reactionary poet, his middle-aged son, a child, a writer and a woman who relates more to stories than reality, are in the midst of it. Each experiences the blast as differently as their experiences of life are from each other but each will be affected.

This is Pakistani writer and graduate from the legendary University of Iowa Writing School Bilal Tanweer's debut novel and he hasn't made it easy for himself. Bilal believes that a writer can convey an entire character via the dialogue rendering further character description unnecessary. This is the novel in which he sets out to prove his theory.

To this end we have a series of first person narratives, using the explosion as the focal point. Are the voices distinct enough? There are some differences: the child on the eventful bus ride is clear, as is the wonderful elderly poet. The others merge to the extent that I found myself reading synopses in order to check who I should be looking out for.

In a way I wish I hadn't discovered that this merging of personalities was unintentional. If we could imagine it was meant, we could also imagine that it's because they're merging as the city streets merge, to create a bigger picture, a human landscape. This isn't a novel without charm though.

For me the interest and richness arises from the insights into the culture of Pakistan and its fascinating population. We cringe as we hear the little lad outline his parents' expectations for him and the consequences of not delivering them. We gradually learn about the poet's past and his years as a political pariah. As for the chap who thinks he's God's gift to women, I smiled right up until it took an interestingly sinister twist. He's definitely not the sort of chap one only finds in Karachi!

The traditional tales woven into the unfolding modern drama show the spectrum of Pakistan's folk story heritage. They range from those that would ease a child to sleep to those that would keep an adult awake, reinforcing that this isn't a children's book.

There is indeed much to admire in Bilal's writing and the best way to appreciate it is to let the words wash over us without struggling to work out who is who. The initial experiment may not have worked entirely as designed, but this is the first in a lifetime of novels from someone who shows great promise and is definitely on my list of authors to watch in the future.

(Thank you, Jonathan Cape for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If this appeals and you'd like to continue immersing in the richness of Pakistani culture, we recommend The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid.

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Buy The Scatter Here is Too Great by Bilal Tanweer at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Scatter Here is Too Great by Bilal Tanweer at


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