A Novel That Takes Your Breath Away
Frankly speaking when I picked up Bilal Tanweer’s The Scatter Here Is Too Great, I was not prepared for what this book had to offer. I knew from its title that it was not one of those light and fun reads, but little did I know that every page in this book would leave me searching for a breather. From the cluster of sentences that make one look away from the book to take a breath and absorb everything, to meeting new characters in every chapter, The Scatter Here Is Too Great is full of complexity and emotions. And that’s because that’s the exact nature of the city in which these stories are set—Karachi. Simply put Tanweer’s novel just like the city of Karachi is intense.
The Scatter Here Is Too Great reads like a collection of short stories focusing on different characters that are connected through their experiences—experiences that are born out of the city of Karachi and a bomb blast that affects everyone. What’s interesting is the way Tanweer has narrated these stories. Each story has a distinctive narrator and one moves from a four-year-old to a romantic teenager to a heartbroken father to other characters and back to the four-year-old boy who is now all grown up.
One can’t help but feel amused at the way Tanweer manages to change the tone of narration and the vocabulary based on the character’s age and profession. The first chapter which is narrated in the voice of a small boy is written in simple words and comparatively shorter sentences—“Then I went to sleep. Baba put his arm around me and I was in the shadow and the hot wind coming in through the door did not touch my face and I went to sleep.” And the language in the last chapter which is centered on this same boy who is now grown up and works as Sub-Editor in a newspaper office is more complex—“A hot cloud of dust and exhaust was billowing around my face. The air was filled with the refracted heat of the late sun.”
It’s difficult for a reader not to picture these stories as the scattered fragments of a car’s shattered windscreen; a metaphor that often resonates in the book.
“Ever seen a bullet smashed windscreen? The hole at the centre throws a sharp clean web around itself and become crowded with tiny crystals. That’s the metaphor for my world…”
Although many of us are not familiar with the city of Karachi, Tanweer reveals his city in such eloquent manner that the readers feel that he or she has travelled in one of those mini buses and has tasted the tea at the café outside Cantt. station in person.
What’s more is that the author has handled the themes of violence and sectarianism intelligently without indulging in the predictable method of using ethnic and religious imageries, making it easier for readers of other communities to relate to the stories. Thus the novel cannot be labeled as the one about Karachi and its community. It forces its readers to look beyond the visible.
“The stories, I realised, were lost. Nobody was going to know that part of the city but as a place where a bomb went off. The bomb was going to become the story of this city.”
And in these untold stories lies the subtle but strong message that humans’ experience is a shared one irrespective of time, date and place.
All in all, The Scatter Here Is Too Great is an elegant portrait of a city and its people but most of all, a story of a human’s passions and emotions.
Which character in the books you have read so far do you remember till date because he or she reminds you of self? Write your opinions in the comment box below.
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