Friday, February 21, 2014

The Bargain from the Bazaar

Title: The Bargain from the Bazaar
Author:  Haroon K. Ullah
Publication Information:  PublicAffairs, Perseus Books Group. 2014. 240 pages.
ISBN:  1610391667 / 978-1610391665

Book Source:  I received this book through the GoodReads First Reads program free of cost in exchange for an honest review. The book arrived as a paperback advance reading copy.

Favorite Quote:  "It was what Pakistanis seemed to do best, coming back from the brink time and time again. Through tragedy and catastrophe, wars and floods, assassinations and police crackdowns, weak and corrupt leadership. the people of Pakistan knew only that they must keep marching on toward a better future."

The Bargain from the Bazaar is the story of a country in turmoil told through the story of one family.  Awais Reza is a shopkeeper in the thriving bazaar (market) of Anarkali in Lahore, Pakistan. Anarkali is the oldest surviving market in Lahore and one of the largest and oldest in South Asia.

Awais Reza has survived "Partition" in which Pakistan was created. He has survived being a soldier in a war, being a prisoner of war, and walking a long and treacherous journey home from war. He is now a shopkeeper looking to a brighter future with his wife and his three sons - Salman, Daniyal, and Kamran.

Then comes the Russian war in Afghanistan. Then comes American participation into that war. Then come the refugees into Pakistan. Then comes 9/11 and its worldwide repercussions. Then comes even more terrorism. This comes into an environment where economic instability, poverty, and corruption already run rampant.

Admist this chaos are people - ordinary people like the Reza family - attempting to live their lives. They face the pull of economic tough times, the lack of opportunity, the respect for traditional values, the rise of modernism, and the countering rise of extremism.

In this book, the three sons come to represent three routes the people of Pakistan are taking to move forward. Salman is the traditionalist, helping his father in the family business, upholding his values of honesty and family, and his responsibility as an older brother. Daniyal is the extremist, turning to a twisted view of religion, incorrectly convinced that the view he is being taught is the truth and that that is the only way. Kamran is the modernist, going to law school on a scholarship with the belief that education and working within the system is the way to change the future.

Daniyal's choices put the entire family at risk. One person's bad decisions call the entire family's choices into question and puts them all in jeopardy. Fortunately, the system works enough to isolate his decisions from those of his family. Most realize that the extreme choices of a few do not represent the views of the many. That represents hope for this family, this community, and this country.

This book does an excellent job of providing a story that goes behind the headlines that Pakistan seems to be in so often these days. This is the story of a family struggling in extreme circumstances. This is parents worrying for this children, especially when the children make catastrophic choices. This is young people trying to carve a life in different ways from the hand that they have been dealt.

Things are not black and white. Communities and countries are not good or evil in their entirety. They are made of individuals - who make good and bad choices. In that, this story makes it personal - behind any headlines are so many stories like this one if we but take the time to understand.

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