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A Season for Martyrs

A Season for Martyrs

4.0 1
by Bina Shah

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The U.S. literary debut of an up-and-coming Pakistani novelist and journalist.

Ali Sikandar is assigned to cover the arrival of Benazir Bhutto, the opposition leader who has returned home to Karachi after eight years of exile to take part in the presidential race. Already eager to leave for college in the U.S. and marry his forbidden Hindu girlfriend, Ali loses a


The U.S. literary debut of an up-and-coming Pakistani novelist and journalist.

Ali Sikandar is assigned to cover the arrival of Benazir Bhutto, the opposition leader who has returned home to Karachi after eight years of exile to take part in the presidential race. Already eager to leave for college in the U.S. and marry his forbidden Hindu girlfriend, Ali loses a friend in a horrific explosion and finds himself swept up in events larger than his individual struggle for identity and love when he joins the People’s Resistance Movement, a group that opposes President Musharraf. Amidst deadly terrorist attacks and protest marches, this contemporary narrative thread weaves in flashbacks that chronicle the deep and beautiful tales of Pakistani history, of the mythical gods who once protected this land. Bina Shah, a journalist herself and now a NYT op-ed writer, illustrates with extraordinary depth and keen observation into daily life the many contradictions of a country struggling to make peace with itself.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Shah's (Slum Child) spirited novel is set in modern Pakistan and is steeped in its rich Sindhi heritage and culture. Twenty-five-year old Ali Sikandar works as a TV journalist for the City24 News station in Karachi when Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's charismatic former Prime Minister, makes her triumphant return home from her exile in October 2007. As the eldest son of the Sikandar family, Ali becomes the patriarch after his father, a wealthy Sindhi landowner, abandons his wife and children to marry a second, younger wife. Ali, who is Muslim, has a Hindu girlfriend, Sunita Lalwani, and they have to shield their relationship from their families. Ali also conceals his Sindhi feudal class origins from Sunita due to the public's negative opinion of the Sindhis. Ali chafes under his burdensome responsibilities and secretly makes plans to escape and study business administration abroad in the United States, but has an abrupt change of heart at the last minute, despite his crumbling relationship with Sunita. When President Musharraf shuts down his TV station, the politically indifferent Ali takes a new interest in Bhutto's celebrated reentry, and finding a new purpose, he pours his soul into Bhutto's reformist campaign at considerable personal risk. As it hurtles toward its violent climax, Shah's novel is both fascinating and eye-opening. (Nov.)
10 AMAZING FEMALE NOVELISS UNDER 50 according to Buzzfeed: “Riveting and articulate, A Season for Martyrs by Pakistani journalist Bina Shah is the author's debut novel for an American readership and clearly denotes her ability to deftly craft and complex storey of suspenseful twists and unexpected turns that holds the reader's total attention from beginning to end. Very highly recommended for personal reading lists.”
Midwest Book Review
“Shah writes with grace and fluency, and it is clear from the start that her book reflects a maturity in style and skill at plot-management that are the hallmarks of the seasoned writer. Shah writes about her native soil as only an insider can. What gives the novel additional warmth and luster is the manner in which she portrays legendary Sindhi heroes….Unlike some female writers, Shah demonstrates skill at authentically depicting a staggering variety of male characters. The ability to transfer masculinity to paper is a rare trait.. . .A Season for Martyrs undoubtedly deserves much praise and will not disappoint readers.”
“In A Season for Martyrs, Bina Shah mixes myth with history and the personal with the political to sing of Sindh in the past and mourn for Pakistan in the present: a musical and mesmerizing work.”
A Season for Martyrs not only tells an excellent story, set in the last three months of Benazir Bhutto’s life, but deftly interweaves it with the myths of the Sufi saints, who are buried and remembered in the Sindh province of Pakistan. The historical and mythical aspects of this important novel are to be savored: Bina Shah is an admirable writer.”
“An intriguing novel that blends events in contemporary Pakistan with ancient Sindh . . . Bina Shah has drawn heavily on her own cultural heritage, rich in its diversity and contradictions.”
Professor Akbar Ahmed
“Listen to the voice of Bina Shah- you will hear a young, confident, compassionate new Pakistan. Her latest novel not only sparkles with wit and wisdom but is a deeply moving paean to the power of love for the author's Pakistani culture and people.”
“In her U.S. debut, Shah embarks on an epic narrative . . . often written beautifully in the melodic style of oral storytelling. . . . ambitious in scope, A Season for Martyrs elegantly mixes both the pathos and grace that make up the soul of (Pakistan.)”
Library Journal
Though Karachi-based novelist Shah writes in English and was raised partly in America, where she received her higher education, this is her U.S. debut. Her new novel focuses on former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's October 2007 return to Pakistan after eight years in exile, an event covered at first reluctantly by TV journalist Ali Sikandar, whose feudal family has ties to the Bhuttos. Scenes dating as far back as the 900s give readers a sense of Pakistan's history and precarious present. VERDICT Good reading, urgently and cleanly told, for those interested in world events, as well as issues of identity and place in community.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

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Meet the Author

Bina Shah has recently become a regular contributor to the International New York Times. She is a Pakistani writer who is a frequent guest on the BBC. She has contributed essays to Granta, The Independent, and The Guardian and writes a monthly column for Dawn, the top English-language newspaper in Pakistan. She holds degrees from Wellesley College and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and is an alumna of the University of Iowa’s International Writers Workshop. Her novel Slum Child was a bestseller in Italy, and she has been published in English, Spanish, German and Italian. A Season for Martyrs is her U.S. debut. She lives in Karachi.

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A Season for Martyrs 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
gaele More than 1 year ago
In her U.S. literary debut, Bina Shah takes readers on a journey through the often twisted and incomprehensible political and social  history of Pakistan in the recent past. Using a young journalist and the events leading to Benazir Bhutto’s return from exile.   This was my 2015 readathon day choice, and it was perfect for the challenge.  While it is impossible to encompass all of the social and perspective-based impressions from the characters, Shah does present an attitude that is based in both tribal, cultural and religious beliefs, and thoroughly steeped in the history of the people. Pakistan is a ‘ cobbled’ country, established in 1947 after the British East India company was ousted (or left, depending on perspective) releasing their  stranglehold on India and the surrounding areas.  Essentially what emerged was a bit of religious migration with Muslims congregating in what would become Pakistan and the Sikh and Hindi heading to India.  To this day – there are fractured families and tensions between the variant religious factions in both India and Pakistan. As with most colonialized areas, those in power (i.e. the west) never really was cognizant or cared about the history and political climate, as the colonization was simply for material gain.  This has led to current uprisings, unrest and injustices – possibly even stretching further back into time.  So, with a bit of background, Shah’s story is gripping and engaging – full of political fact and perspective from ‘on the ground’ in her character Ali.  Ali is a reporter with the news, and he shares a similar background with Bhutto: both are from feudal zamindar (aristocratic) families from the Sindh community, although Bhutto’s father was more of a populist and at odds with the majority attitudes  of his community. That his daughter would adopt and promulgate those views, and rise to the highest political office available in a  rigidly Muslim state, as a woman, is nothing short of miraculous.  Ali’s career choices are much more accepted: both as a man and one  of his elevated family history. But all is not as it seems: Ali is in love with a Hindi woman, a travesty and potentially life-threatening  danger in the uncertain times. With a fractured relationship with his father and his family, and questions surrounding the true aims of Benazir Bhutto and her return from exile, he’s make efforts to emigrate to the United States, yet another secret in his ever increasing  cache.  All is not about Ali and his struggles though, as Shah also details the events leading to Bhutto’s return from exile, and the not  insubstantial controversies from both supporters and detractors. So many elements are in play in this story, yet Shah manages to keep people straight and explain traditional beliefs, family ties and that history without it becoming overwhelming. There are plenty of things  to keep straight, and at first it does feel a touch overwhelming, but Shah’s writing is smooth and she adds nuance and never talks  “down” to her readers. More compelling than an utterly twisted mystery with multiple suspects, Shah draws you in and provides a bit more understanding of the people and what is important to them, and possibly you will find some common ground.  Far more informative than any 3 minute ‘news story’ could ever present, I closed the book feeling I understood the country and its climate just a  tiny bit more – and that is really the best thing that could happen.  In some ways, this was an introductory course in modern Pakistani politics that reads like a fictional novel: compelling, emotional and most of all engaging the reader to see and experience the world through another’s eyes.  I was provided a paperback copy of the title from Media Muscle for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.