I remember once years ago when my dad and I had a rather sizable argument. Well, it wasn’t really an argument as much as I was completely flummoxed at his reaction to something seemingly insignificant I did and I was trying to understand where he was coming from. We ended up talking through it and, for some reason through that conversation, my dad opened up about his childhood. He talked about how hard he and his family had it, growing up in Karachi after the partition, and what his own dad was like. I regret the events that preceded the conversation but it had led to my dad opening up to me, something that had never really happened before.
I feel like all that my dad went through is part of me somehow, that it has shaped who I have become.
In the introduction of his book The Faithful Scribe: A Story of Islam, Pakistan, Family, and War, author Shahan Mufti talks about this notion that there isn’t just one thing that creates our identity, that we are all made up of a “palace of stories” that help define us. In a recent book signing I attended, Mufti mentioned that one’s grandparents or even how one did in the second grade can all be part of the palace of stories.
I took an instant liking to his concept. I probably don’t have a complete understanding of everything in my life that defines me but I do know the story of “Bushra” is as much about having a Pakistani background while growing up in America as it is being the 3rd of four kids and spending a lot of my time reading than actually hanging out with people back when I was in school.
Anyways, back to Mufti’s book. In The Faithful Scribe, the author uses the history of his family as a way to talk about the history of Pakistan. As someone with a woefully limited knowledge of Pakistan, I thought the book presented the history of the country as an intimate narrative, allowing me to understand the path the country has gone down and the ramifications of the decision makers for the citizens of Pakistan. Honestly, I understood Pakistan and even its relation to America in a way that I never had before.
The book is also about Mufti’s own story, from being born in Ohio, to moving back to Pakistan with his family, and then back to the United States for school. He even describes coming across his family tree in Lahore and his quest to find out more about the creator of the tree.
I love The Faithful Scribe. It’s a great read and I feel like I have come to know both Mufti’s family and Pakistan. It really is everything I ever wanted in a book about Pakistan.
Coincidentally, another book about Pakistan was recently released as well. The Bargain from the Bazaar: A Family’s Day of Reckoning in Lahore by Haroon Ullah is a true story too, focusing on the family of Awaiz Reza – him, his wife, and three sons. Awais is a successful shop owner in Lahore, firmly in the middle class.
I’ll be honest, I thought Ullah’s account of the Reza family was just so the reader can get insight into what the turmoil of Pakistan and Lahore looked like from the perspective of a normal, middle-class family. I didn’t realize at all of how the family would fit in and how personal it all became. How personal is not something I want to divulge as it completely threw me when the book ended up going down an unexpected path so I’ll leave readers to discover that for themselves.
Reading The Faithful Scribe and The Bargain from the Bazaar one after the another has further fueled my desire to tell stories – a feeling I’ve had forever but haven’t really done anything about. I realized too that I still have to learn so much more about my own family. I talked a bit about some of the history of my family in the post A Reflection on My Parents, but that’s only scratching the surface. I’m hoping to learn more about the people around me, whether it’s family, friends, or the random folks I come across in cafes. It’d be cool to really find out what makes up not only my palace of stories, but everyone else’s.