Monday, 15 June 2015


Ok I won't lie. It took me forever to finish this book, and by forever I mean a month which is basically forever in book world. That's not because this book isn't brilliant or I didn't find it interesting, but simply because I'm not used to reading non-fiction for my own sake, on my own terms. But ever since I started university in September I've had an insatiable lust for ALL THE KNOWLEDGE, and a book about my motherland seemed like a good place to start. 

I gotta say, Anatol Lieven has successfully impressed me. Not only has he managed to understand the deeply complex intricacies and multiple layers of Pakistani society and state, but he also manages to explain it all in a perfectly clear, simple and often beautiful manner. As one critic writes 'Lieven is a wonderful writer. There are descriptions that a novelist might envy'. I totally agree. His description of Peshawar University is an example of this, 'Its green and beautiful grounds are like a drop of perfume squeezed out as if by God's hand from the hard and gritty fabric of Peshawar.'

That's one of the sunnier sides of the book. Most of Lieven's analysis paints a pretty gloomy picture of Pakistan, which at times left me feeling a little deflated. But that's no fault of Lieven's. Though he isn't Pakistani himself, he remains fairly objective, and simply states the facts. From what I've gathered, not only are the people of Pakistan often their own worst enemy - what with the deep-rooted corruption, cultural/religious differences, and love of a good conspiracy theory - but for a country that has only existed for 68 years, it's had to deal with a hell of a lot of crap. Lieven often mentions the country's complicated relationship with America, and also brushes upon the everlasting affects of British colonisation.

He not only dedicates two whole chapters to the matter of the Taleban (Afghan and Pakistani), but continuously mentions both throughout his book. Not having any prior knowledge on this topic I found this really helpful, and it was interesting to discover that Pakistan is under a much greater threat from the Taleban than the West has ever been. Having lived in Britain my whole life, and been subjected to post 9/11 media, I've seen Pakistan depicted somewhat as the enemy, when in actual fact it has suffered far greater losses at the hands of the Taleban. It was also intriguing to read about the perceived differences between the Afghan Taleban, and the Pakistan Taleban, as well as the reasoning behind the mentality of their sympathisers.

That's what I love about this book, it's filled with dozens and dozens of interviews and statements of people from all walks of life in Pakistan, and Lieven integrates them smoothly and effectively into the main body of the text. At times the author can't help but express his amusement or frustration, which I found quite nice as it prevented the book from becoming nothing more than a textbook on Pakistani history/economy/politics.

Although Lieven does touch upon the topic of culture (which is a fundamental part of Pakistan) and its many factions, he doesn't get into the nitty gritty of the gajillion traditions involved, unless it's relevant to his analysis of the Pakistani state.

With sections dedicated to religion, politics, justice, the military and more, as well as detailed maps and all the references you'll ever need, Lieven's book is very thorough and he's clearly a wonderfully capable writer, and journalist. So if you're looking for a fairly easy, detailed, and overall brilliant analysis of what makes Pakistan tick (and sometimes falter) from before its independence 'til 2010, Lieven's your guy.

Do you guys dabble in non-fiction? If so, what would you recommend? Let me know in the comments section below :) 


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