Writer-activist Fatima Bhutto has penned her debut novel which encounters the life of three brothers and two women in a small town in the troubled tribal region of Waziristan near the Afghanistan border.
The Shadow of the Crescent Moon, published by Penguin, chronicles the lives of people trying to live and love in a world on fire - the three brothers Aman Erum, Sikandar and Hayat and the beautiful Samarra and desolated Mina.
The fiction debut of the niece of slain former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto begins and ends one rain-swept Friday morning in Mir Ali town.
The three brothers meet for breakfast at their house on Sher Hakimullah road. Soon after, the eldest Aman, recently returned from America, hails a taxi to the local mosque. The second brother Sikandar, a doctor, goes to check in at his hospital. His troubled wife does not join the family that morning for no one knows where Mina goes these days.
And the youngest Hayat, the idealist, leaves for town on a motorbike. Seated behind him is the beautiful, fragile girl Samarra whose world has been overwhelmed by war.
The three brothers live in a white house which they share with their widowed mother, "who occupies a solitary room on the ground floor, spending her days in the company of a young maid who gives her medicines and homeopathic tonics and twists her long white hair into a single plait every morning".
Writes Bhutto, "Two of the brothers are the other occupants of the ground-floor rooms, alongside the family kitchen and a small sitting room. Upstairs, the third brother and his family find their home in disarray as mobile phones beep in lieu of alarm clocks and showers with aged, corroded pipes drip water onto the heads of those who did not remember to fill a bucket the night before."
The writer says most Pakistanis thought of Mir Ali with the same hostility they reserved for India or Bangladesh; insiders – traitors – who fought their way out of the body as somehow made it on their own without the glory of the crescent moon and star shining overhead.
"But the shadow of that moon never faded over Mir Ali. It hung over its sky night after night, condemning the town to life under its cold shadow."
This is Bhutto's fourth book, the previous works being a collection of poems "Whispers of the Desert", an account of the victims of the 2005 earthquake "8.50 a.m." and the controversial "Songs Of Blood And Sword" on the life of her slain father Murtaza.