"Nur Ali momentarily closed his eyes on the brightness of the store . . . He reached with the fragile tendrils of memory to conjure up, at the very least, the smell of fried dough and freshly brewed tea."

Informed by the author’s decades of study and fieldwork in the Middle East, this powerful novel explores one Pakistani family’s efforts to navigate the post-9/11 world of violence, cultural displacement, and exile. The main character, proud middle-aged patriarch Nur Ali, immigrated to the United States from northern Pakistan’s Swat Valley when the area turned into a warzone, making earning a living impossible. Ali found a community of expatriates and a job working the night shift at 7-Eleven. Enduring 15 years of exile, Ali worked to support not only his immediate family but also an extended network of relations, his only connection to them coming through constant telephone calls and dreams of returning. The chapters alternate between describing his family back in Pakistan—their marriages, births, and deaths—and descriptions of his grim, unchanging existence behind the counter.

The novel provides a rich description of Pakistani culture, detailing not only cultural practices around religion, food, marriage, and family relationships, but also delving into the emotional lives of people struggling to preserve traditions in the midst of warfare and exile. Nur Ali’s story, in particular, is told with complexity and remarkable sympathy. Despite vast distance, this strong, stoic man fully embodies his role as qaidada, or respected elder, while living off the grid in abject poverty and suffering a host of stress-related ailments. Additionally, the novel’s structure captures the characters’ experiences of being split between two continents and cultures. Americans see people like Nur Ali every day working in gas stations, restaurants, and convenience stores, and the novel dives deeply into their histories, textures of daily life, and emotional struggles, showing the very real personal costs that too often attend global political conflicts.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Return to USR Home