Naughty Lateef, a Pakistani housewife who sleeps with powerful men, is “masquerading as a wronged Muslim woman, describing her oppression in lavish detail” in a book of kiss-and-tell memoirs disguised as a denunciation of Muslim norms.
On a French TV show, she finds herself in opposition to a “hijab-clad Maghrebin Frenchwoman”. Unexpectedly Yusufa, who wears the hijab as a “gesture of defiance”, wins the round, moving her adversary when she recites a verse by the 15th-century Persian poet Jami which uses the veil as metaphor.
Dara, the narrator of this novel, has been asked by his artist-friend Plato to tell the latter’s story; but Dara insists he will tell a multi-vocal story and tell it as fiction. Plato serves mostly as a facilitator, bringing Dara back into contact with homeland, and introducing the passionate Zaynab into his life. Dara is a wily storyteller, who simultaneously constructs, and dismantles, orientalist takes on Pakistan: honour killings, gender discrimination, corruption and betrayal—yes: but not for the reasons the Western world assumes. It’s the web of political skullduggery Dara decries: he tells the story of his idealistic 1960s youth in the Fatherland (as Pakistan is referred to) and of the companions who sold friends and went off in a rightward direction.
“Fiction, thinly disguised as fact”, is only one of Tariq Ali’s targets in this wonderfully exuberant and mischievous novel. Naughty pays a price for her success, but earns a fortune on her way to perdition. Zaynab, who really has suffered—in her native Sindh, she’s been forced to marry the Koran by her feudal family—refuses to see Islam as the sole enemy (such practices aren’t condoned even by extremists). read more