The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad
Riverhead Books, New York, 2011
From my library TBR list. This book has been short listed for the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize.
Born in 1933, Jamil Ahmad spent time in the Pakistani Civil Service. He served in the frontier province, traveling through the “Badlands” between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Ahmad is a traditional story-teller. He values and love these lands and the tribal people who live in and travel across them.
The Wandering Falcon is a small book made up of stories. Stories you might hear sitting at an old man’s feet or around a fire with many relatives. I have to believe that this still happens somewhere. That people tell stories to the young, to each other.
A young couple runs away from their tribe and takes shelter with a group of soldiers. They build a life and have a son. Eventually the head man of their tribe comes looking for them and they run away, only to be killed in the desert, their son left to starve. This boy is Tor Baz, the “Black Falcon” and he grows up to wander the land. The stories follow him from tribe to tribe, from youth to adolescence to manhood.
The area where Pakistan and Afghanistan meet is inhospitable. It’s people are traditional, tribal, most are nomadic, following their herds through summer and winter, over open pasture, through difficult mountain passes. They live a harsh, honor-bound life. Many of their beliefs and traditions clash with those of the west. They are being forced to change.
Jamil Ahmed, through this small collection of linked stories, as written the late 20th and early 21st century history of this land. The closing of borders, wars fought for territories, western influence, these pressures and others force a people who have lived in certain ways for centuries to change those ways over night. Ahmed’s stories bring this land, these people, to life.
I enjoyed this book, loved Jamil’s traditional story-telling. I am sad for these people, for their struggles, for being caught in a time of great change.