A man looks through his binoculars one day and sees the face of his dead wife, painted on a mural inside a flat on the other side of the city. After weeks of searching he finds the flat, in which two orphaned boys are living. He takes them in, and this is how Jeo and Mikal become brothers. Years later, the two (who also happen to be in love with the same woman) travel to Afghanistan to help the war wounded, are promptly captured by the Taliban, and so the wild, meandering adventure of a book which is The Blind Man’s Garden begins.
Aslam, who grew up in Huddersfield after moving to England with his family at the age of 14, is in a privileged position when it comes to seeing both sides of the war on terrorism, and aside from the superb writing, one of The Blind Man’s Garden’s strengths is that it grasps and transmits the complex landscape of post 2001 Afghanistan and Pakistan, seeing the conflict through many different eyes.
‘We can’t know what the Westerners want, the old man says. ‘To know what they want you have to eat what they eat, wear what they wear, breathe the air they breathe. You have to be born where they are born…The Westerners are unknowable to us. The divide is too great, too final. It’s like asking what the dead or the unborn know.’
Back in Pakistan, the rest of the family lives its own struggles while waiting for the brothers to return. The owner of the garden which gives the book its title is going blind but cannot afford the operation which will let him see again. A young widow is pressured to remarry quickly to protect her reputation.
Emotionally it’s not an easy read, but considering it contains such heavy topics The Blind Man’s Garden is surprisingly gripping. Just when you think there might be a happy ending in sight, the plot takes another mad twist and you’re back on the edge of your seat hoping against hope that things will turn out ok. I devoured it uneasily.
Any Cop?: It’s an ambitious topic and Aslam totally does it justice. I hope this book will get the recognition it deserves.