Fatima Bhutto’s debut novel is a thought-provoking story, taking place in a troubled region of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan. The Shadow of the Crescent Moon is the tale of three brothers in the dangerous city of Mir Ali. It takes place over the course of a single day, with flashbacks to the past, filling in clues over time.
Bhutto is related to the well-known Bhutto family and has herself been victim to Pakistan’s tumultuous political and religious tragedies. She writes in present-tense about a very real nation in conflict, but with fictional characters. Using the time of day instead of chapters, she writes with emotions and details unfolding over the passing hours and minutes. Recently interviewed on NPR, Bhutto describes the region she writes of as divided from the rest of the country, suffering from military and militia attacks and where “violence is ordinary”. The people of Mir Ali identify strongly with their own region and feel at odds from the rest of Pakistan, distrustful of the central government and outsiders alike.
The central characters are the three brothers and two women in their lives. Each have followed very different paths in life - one who wants to escape Mir Ali and become a business man at any cost, a doctor and his mourning wife, a devoted rebel and a woman avenging her father’s disappearance. All want the conflict to end, addressing it with either violence, prayer, medicine or treachery. Their lives are tightly wound together and victim to their own and each others actions.
Fraught with conflict, the book depicts the trauma of war and violence in contemporary Pakistan. Bhutto describes outspoken university faculty and students who are later found dead or missing, the mysterious disappearances and murders of local young boys, and the constant shadow of suspicion - from the military, politicians, Taliban, neighbors and even family members. Bhutto effectively brings to life a rarely spoken of reality with an authentic, yet restrained voice.
This book is a worthwhile read. I enjoyed learning more about that part of the world, regardless of the unpleasantness. It’s interesting and well-written, but don’t expect any happy endings.
Publisher: Penguin Press
Vickie’s Rating: 3.5 Stars