WRITING STYLE: 4/5
ENTERTAINMENT QUOTIENT: 4.5/5
“What she has suffered is far worse than any of us can endure”.
From the author of Gujarati novel Asammat comes this complex and challenging self-translated English debut titled A Life to Die For. A timid and frightened sixteen-year-old girl is handed over to the police by a member of the Independent Kashwargh Force, Aryaman Zafar who is on the police watch list. The Army tries its best to keep tensions under control amidst the furore of protesters thronging the streets and seeking recuperation for the girl.
Her story has become a headline news of national concern. Justice like Freedom is heavily dichotomised with highly contentious implications in a land where truth is as varied as the eventful days. On the advice of the President, Adil Kifayat allows a sitting of the Investigation Committee. Based on the Fidelity and Honesty Measure of Individualism (FHMI) charted down by the United Countries, a handful of eligible commoners are shortlisted to be part of a government spy survey mission.
Cleverly hidden behind replaced names of Jambola and Kashwargh, is Shah’s meticulously etched historical backdrop of the events of the story that quickly hint at real-life analogies. According to the narrative, history remains a witness to that single indecisive moment by Raja Bharat Singh that led to the invasion of Zayakistani troops into Kashwargh pushing the King to seek military aid from neighbour Siran in return for assenting to Kashwargh’s accession to Siran. The multiplicity of the narrative never fails to uphold the immense suspense as the female members of the investigative team are able to obtain bits and pieces of information from the traumatised girl asserting the return of a rescuer Prince.
Beneath this fairy tale anecdote of a beastly villainous King versus a saviour Prince is perhaps the sad reality of several young girls whose only fault is that they are born in regions of geopolitical dispute giving rise to endless tales of female trafficking, abuse, slaughter and patriarchal dominion.
Caught in the shackles of political and military euphoria is a suffocated Kashwargh that wants to breathe its own breath and be the Paradise it was meant to be. In this uncertain land, every passer-by has an opinion and every opinion is a new angle of the grand narrative which is equally convoluted and incomprehensible. With children as young as six turning into militant Force Soldiers, hope becomes as untenable as destiny. Economist Karshwargh boy Ruslan Ahmed’s Law of Inconsonance brings about a new twist as the plot picks up the pace with characters flitting from location to location in this action-thriller. Problems of sectarian divisions, infiltration and swapping of allegiances between states densely populate the plot.
The characters belong to several strata of the society and hold varied positions. However, the plot line is extremely demanding and requires the reader to be closely attentive throughout with good memory skills. Events pile upon events and newer names and characters are just thrown in as the reader is expected to recall and make the connections. With the turn of every page, more startling information is hurled at the unprepared reader who can merely gasp and pop his eyes out at the harshness of situations regarding the conditions of innocent people caught up in cross-border tensions. The pathos is acutely rattling.
The complexity of the entire investigative procedure exposes ulterior motives, political misdealing, masked people and jabbed necks. Things begin to get murkier as the little girl who is suspected of perhaps being a Zayakistani infiltrator turns out to be Adil’s long-lost daughter. Meanwhile, the others remain caught up in the Preksha-Anusha-Naushin triad in order to figure out her true identity. Conspiracies propound as the truth becomes an offspring of a disparagingly intricate reality. The to and fro movement of the story makes it exciting but difficult to follow. A lot of abbreviations used in the book do not come with footnotes.
As tensions in the Valley increase, unemployment rages, shootouts are rampant, stocks decline and ATMs are shut down forcing people to go back to the barter system and exchange stones. This episode becomes metaphoric of their long-held stoic resistance that finally gives in to arbitrary vehemence. A circularity is maintained as Professor Ashfaq Kifayat of Kashwargh University teams up with his most brilliant student Zeenat to extend Ruslan’s postulations and formulate the ‘Butterfly Theory of Chaos’. But will this bring any positive solutions in an otherwise disordered world of individuals doomed to a death to live for?
Though A Life to Die For is a completely fictional novel, the authority of the analogical data used was, is and will always remain debatable. It is Shah’s ability to intelligently bring out the turmoil both within the human souls and in their surroundings that takes the story to a whole new level. Shah maintains a humanistic approach that resonates with the ground reality. In fact, the book has enough substance to turn it into a major motion picture. Nonetheless, it is a book for people with some taste for hardcore action-packed political thrillers and clearly not for the faint-hearted.
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