The Wandering Falcon is by Jamil Ahmed. In summary, it is a collection of short stories that explore the experiences of the border ‘tribes’ of Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan.
In general I think the people he writes about can be separated into two main ethnic groups called the Pashtuns and Baluchs, but then they separate into a huge amount of ‘tribes’ – I actually can’t find anything that will tell me exactly how many there are, but as far as I can tell there are lots.
Ahmed tells tales of the rival tribes of the Wazirs and the Mahsuds who survive at all costs; Gul Bibi and her lover who run away from their tribe; the Frontier Crimes Regulations who have to mediate between the state of Pakistan and the tribes with whom they have contracts with to secure their cohabitation; Mullah Berrarai and the polarised opinions of him, and more. Each of the nine stories is connected by the character Tor Baz who we watch grow from birth to adulthood. Strangely, we learn about his life by reading about the lives of the people for whom he exists only in the periphery, making this one of the most innovative sets of shorts stories I’ve read so far.
The book’s narrative voice is interestingly devoid of emotion, giving the tone of a folk story. But rather than conveying a disinterest, there is the feeling of very firm respect for the tribes and their way of life, although Ahmed is not in any way blind to the problems of the tribes. The honour system, the hierarchies, and the oppression of men and especially women, are discussed frankly and without any apologies on behalf of anyone. It seems that he is very aware of the shock that it will give readers unused to the ways of the people he is writing about – and probably is quite happy with the effects.
So if you liked Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, and want to read about the current state of the border lands of South Asia which on the news are only discussed in terms of the Taliban, then I’d recommend this book wholeheartedly. There is so much more to the people there, their strength, their difficulties, their culture, and their humour, all of which is conveyed in this book.