Review: The Book of Gold Leaves Is A ‘Melancholy’ Story
By Kashoo Tawseef
17 February, 2015
About the Book:
Title: The Book of Gold Leaves.
Author: Mirza Waheed.
Paperback: 339 pages.
Publisher: Viking an imprint of Penguin Books-2014.
It’s about art, it’s about love, it’s about culture, it’s about nostalgia and it’s about Kashmir. The Book of Gold Leaves is the second book by the author after The Collaborator. At the very outset, it takes you to Kashmir with Papier Maché art as its cover page. The book is set in early 90’s of Kashmir; the book revolves around a heartbreaking love story between Roohi, a young Sunni woman, and Faiz a Shia Papier Maché artist, set in the heart of the downtown, Srinagar. The story gives an insight about the every day life as it used to be in war-torn Kashmir in the early 90’s, and particularly how conflict affects the normal life, and how military presence impacts on every affair of the life including the love affair.
The book gives an in-depth detailed account of daily life in a Kashmiri household and neighbourhood in the 90’s usually called the dark days of Kashmiri history. Books talks about the natural beauty of Kashmir, the lakes, water bodies and streams and how that are endangered and some have changed into habitation disturbing the ecosystem considered as one of the reason for the recent floods that devastated the whole infrastructure and left hundreds homeless. The book makes the reader feel like walking through the war-torn alleyways of valley once as beautiful as paradise. As one famous Persian poet Amir-e-Khusru Dehluvi, who referred this place as a paradise on earth, which proclaims "Agar firdous baroye zameen ast, hami asto, hami asto hami ast”, meaning "if there is a paradise upon earth, it is here, it is here, it is here". But Alas!!! The book gives you a details account what happens to this paradise when militarization took place and makes the reader realise what Kashmir has been through, and in between is a tale of love story, the separation, and the waiting.
It takes you back to LoC, “when you will come back, I will tell you everything…” when people used to cross the LoC (Line of Control) as Kashmir is divided between India, Pakistan and China, the boundary being disputed is LoC, and come back to fight for freedom; The book reminds you of “Country without post office” and takes you to Srinagar and elucidates downtown and explains, how Kashmir is a melancholy place. The complexion of Zaal in the novel, gives you an idea of militarization, and how it is to be living under militarised environment. It talks about the armed struggle, curfews and crackdowns (search operations), and how schools turn into being the army camps and how different cinemas and hotels turn into torture centers.
The novel talks about Roohi’s world and her love story. The author has characterized it lovely, “you know what I miss the most, the waiting,” how Roohi used to wait for Faiz, the prominent characters in the book. To have the feeling of their love story, here’s a quote, “I think you all time, Faiz, all day, even when I’m praying…You know what I miss the most? The waiting; There’s nothing to look forward to, Faiz.”
Talking about the art, as the cover of the book has Kashmiri art in it, the book mentions about Papier Mache art, a handmade art were people spend hours to come up with a particular design and an artifact ready to sell. This art is now suffering and the artists are moving to other fields as they hardly manage the survival on it now.
The tale of love story that book elucidates is about love story within the sects of Islam and how challenging can it be and what makes it worse when there is conflict going on in your love place (here Srinagar) and violence. It talks about the Islamic ethos in the Kashmir and how people were tolerant towards each other and revered the shrines, as Sufi Islam dominates the region.
The art of story telling and flow of writing has very well crafted by the author and makes you feel that you are among the characters of the novel. The book is divided into smaller chapters’ which makes it easy to read for lazy readers like me! But Kashmiri words should have translation with it to make it easy to understand for non-Kashmiri readers.
The writer and Journalist, Mirza Waheed was born and brought up in Indian administered Kashmir. His debut novel was “The Collaborator” and was short-listed for many Awards like the Shakti Bhat Prize, and long-listed for the Desmond Elliott Prize. It was also book of the year for many publications. The Book of Gold Leaves’ has also received good response from the readers and was recently Long-Listed for UK's Folio Prize.
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