“Entangled Lives” by Imran Omer

Imran Omer’s Entangled Lives is not an easy book to read. It shouldn’t be an easy book to read. It is, after all, the story of how young men in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s saw perpetual war as a given and had little choice but to fight. It is, after all, the story of a war between the USSR and Afghanistan that led to the rise of the Taliban that harbored Osama bin Laden.

And it is part memoir, because Imran Omer grew up in Pakistan during the times he writes about in this novel.

Right away, it becomes clear that Raza, the main character in the story, is representative of the many thousands of poor young boys and men who were orphaned, who were starving, and who had nothing to look forward to when the radical teachers began setting up madrassahs to teach the Quran and ready men for the holy jihad. The schools meant food and shelter and safety, relatively speaking. For too many, it has obviously been the only choice.

One of the strongest parts of the novel is when Raza reads his mother’s diary and learns about the turmoil that rocked Pakistan and the surrounding areas in the 1970s, leaving her pregnant and separated from all family.

Perpetual war.

There is a weaker part to the story, and it has to do with the trope of white saviorism.

Rachel Brown is an American reporter who covers war. Her Indian husband is not happy about prolonged absences but she isn’t particularly happy in her marriage. So it’s fairly clear she escapes to Afghanistan just as the Taliban begins it’s push for total power in 1996. By chance, she interviews Raza at a stadium. By chance, he spares her life later. And by chance, after 9/11 she sees a photograph of him on television, after he’s been arrested as a terrorist and, I think, taken to Guantanamo Bay.

So she decides that should be the greatest story she tells.

The novel is meant to be Raza telling his life story to Rachel, in exchange for her getting his small son out of the same madrassah that put him on the path to terror. Rachel isn’t essential to the story, not really even as a vehicle by which Raza can tell the story. It’s possible to go for long stretches without thinking about her at all.

Raza, as representative that all men who do one thing might not be evil… evil enough to be painted with the same brush as everyone else around them, is what’s important to the story. It’s his story that makes this novel so good and so important.

(I received a copy of Entangled Lives from NetGalley and Roundfire Books in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.)

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