Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Scatter Here Is Too Great: In Conversation With Bilal Tanweer

The skyline of Karachi
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Last night marked the final day of the Sharjah International Book Fair 2013 and the pre-launch of Bilal Tanweer's debut novel, The Scatter Here Is Too Great. The fair was silly enough to foist me on Bilal as his host and we decided on a Q&A about the book and a reading or two as a suitable way to pass an hour on a Saturday evening.

The actual launch will take place in Goa, with Random House presumably splashing out for luxury yachts, dancing girls, champagne and cake. And then there are launches in London, Paris and New York. Let's face it, start in Sharjah and you can hardly go wrong in your upwards trajectory of launch events.

Bilal managed to dig up an ARC (Advance Review Copy, silly) for me earlier in the week, which rather put the pressure on given my already extensive TBR (To Be Read list. DO try and keep up with the jargon, would you?) and beta reading commitments. The book was a pleasure to read (I was its first 'general public' reader as it's still in production) - I accused Bilal of doing the same to the good people of Karachi as James Joyce had done to Dubliners with Ulysses and he couldn't muster any disagreement ("When a dog fouls the carpet, you rub its nose in it. Ulysses was my attempt to do the same for the Irish people") - The Scatter Here is Too Great is a book with a varied cast of characters muddling through in a mixture of joy, horror, sickness, health, youth and old age. It's rarely a book that spares the reader strong and pungent description of a city that Bilal admits he loves and loathes.

From the little boy who is teased for his teeth and called parrot, parrot through to the repo man in his immersion in an increasingly violent cycle as he struggles through life, the book is packed with horror and violence, yet there's also life, laughter and love in there. It's a heady mixture of influences, characters and cameos. The violence is rarely explicit, yet implied throughout the book.

And so we talked about it, about these people and the city that spawned them, the bomb that forms the hole in the windscreen that all these cracked lives revolve around as they dance their dance of life and death. Tempus duly fugitted and we found ourselves standing blinking at the end of Q&A with the audience.

An odd but rewarding week, then, in which I have been introduced to two charming Pakistani writers whose work I have enjoyed and whose company it has been a pleasure to find myself in.

In the meantime, Jashanmal sold out of their SIBF stock of Beirut - An Explosive Thriller and that made me glad...
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