Synopses & Reviews
Basti is the great Pakistani novel, a beautifully written, brilliantly inventive reckoning with the violent history of a country whose turbulence, ambitions, and uncertainties increasingly concern the whole world. In Urdu, basti means any space, from the most intimate to the most universal, in which groups of people come together to try to live together, and the universal question at the heart of the book is how to constitute a common world. What brings people together? What tears them apart? “When the world was still all new, when the sky was fresh and the earth not yet soiled, when trees breathed through centuries and ages spoke around in the voices of birds, how astonished he was that everything was so new and yet looked so old”—so the book begins, with a mythic, even mystic, vision of harmony, as the hero, Zakir, looks back on his childhood in a subcontinent that had not yet been divided between Muslims and Hindus. But Zakir is abruptly evicted from this paradise—real or imagined—into the maelstrom of history. The new country of Pakistan is born, separating him once and for all from the woman he loves, and in a jagged and jarring sequence of scenes we witness a nation and a psyche torn into existence only to be torn apart again and again by political, religious, economic, linguistic, personal, and sexual conflicts—in effect, a world of loneliness. Zakir, whose name means “remember,” serves as the historian of this troubled place, while the ties he maintains across the years with old friends—friends who run into one another in cafés and on corners and the odd other places where history takes a time-out—suggest that the possibility of reconciliation is not simply a dream. The characters wait for a sign that minds and hearts may still meet. In the meantime, the dazzling artistry of Basti itself gives us reason to hope against hope.
An NYRB Classics Original
Basti is a beautifully written reckoning with the tragic history of Pakistan. Basti means settlement, a common place, and Intizar Husain’s extraordinary novel begins with a mythic, even mystic, vision of harmony between old and young, man and woman, Muslim and Hindu. Then Zakir, the hero, wakes to the modern world. Crowds gather. Slogans echo. Cities burn. Whether hunkered down with family or furtively meeting to exchange news with friends in cafés, Zakir is alone in a country lost to the politics of loneliness.
About the Author
Intizar Husain (b. 1925) is a journalist, short-story writer, and novelist, widely considered the most significant living fiction writer in Urdu. Born in Dibai, Bulandshahr, in British-administered India, he migrated to Pakistan in 1947 and currently lives in Lahore. Besides Basti
, he is the author of two other novels, Naya Gar
(The New House), which paints a picture of Pakistan during the ten-year dictatorship of the Islamic fundamentalist General Zia-ul-Haq, and Agay Sumandar Hai
(Beyond Is the Sea), which juxtaposes the spiraling urban violence of contemporary Karachi with a vision of the lost Islamic realm of al-Andalus. Collections of Husain’s celebrated short stories have appeared in English under the titles Leaves
, The Seventh Door
, A Chronicle of the Peacocks
, and An Unwritten Epic
Frances W. Pritchett has taught South Asian literature at Columbia University since 1982. Her books include Nets of Awareness: Urdu Poetry and Its Critics, The Romance Tradition in Urdu: Adventures from the Dastan of Amir Hamzah, and (with Khaliq Ahmad Khaliq) Urdu Meter: A Practical Handbook.
Asif Farrukhi is a writer and a physician trained in public health. He is a frequent contributor to the English-language press of Pakistan and the author of seven short-story collections, two essay collections, and a monograph on Intizar Husain. He is the editor of Fires in an Autumn Garden: Stories from Pakistan, Look at the City from Here: Writings About Karachi, and co-editor of Faultlines, a selection of stories about the 1971 Indo-Pakistani war, and has collaborated with Intizar Husain on the anthology Short Stories from Pakistan.