Fantasy—like the original dream of Pakistan—is a refuge, when no one lives happily ever after in realityby Tanjil Rashid / February 15, 2017 / Leave a comment
The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam (Faber, £16.99)
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Once upon a time there was a country called Pakistan, dreamt up by secular intellectuals as a refuge for Muslims. According to its creation myth, Pakistan was also meant to be a democratic homeland for minorities. But in reality, Hindus and Sikhs were driven out; now Christians are the victims of terrorism or persecution in the form of blasphemy laws.
This is the history that Pakistan-born British novelist Nadeem Aslam has chosen to fictionalise in his new novel The Golden Legend. “History is the third parent,” Aslam writes, and one of its children is Nargis, his heroine. An architect who lives with her husband (also an architect) in Zamana—a fictional city whose name (“time”) nods to the novel’s theme—they are literally building the nation Jinnah dreamed of. But violence and intolerance sees Nargis’s husband murdered and her Christian friends persecuted. They flee to an island where they find safety in a mosque Nargis had built.
Aslam tells his story with the symbolism of a fable. The island had plans for a church—never realised, like the vision for a free Pakistan. There’s also an old book Nargis is weaving back together—a source of hope, revealing Aslam’s belief in art as the antithesis of violence. Calling his story a “legend,” Aslam seems to be mindful of the childishness of this view. Fantasy—like the original dream of Pakistan—is a refuge, when no one lives happily ever after in reality. Still, readers would do well to take refuge in this well-told and surprisingly uplifting tale.