Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi

Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi

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by Steve Inskeep
     
 

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Morning Edition cohost Steve Inskeep presents a riveting account of a single harrowing day in December 2009 that sheds light on the constant tensions in Karachi, Pakistan—when a bomb blast ripped through a Shia religious procession, followed by the torching of hundreds of businesses in Karachi’s commercial district. Through interviews with

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Overview

Morning Edition cohost Steve Inskeep presents a riveting account of a single harrowing day in December 2009 that sheds light on the constant tensions in Karachi, Pakistan—when a bomb blast ripped through a Shia religious procession, followed by the torching of hundreds of businesses in Karachi’s commercial district. Through interviews with a broad cross section of Karachi residents, Inskeep peels back the layers of that terrible day. It is the beginning, and a constant touchstone, in a journey across the city’s epic history and its troubled present Thrilling and deeply researched, Instant City tells the story of one of the world’s fastest-growing metropolises and the forces competing to shape its future.

Editorial Reviews

THE WASHINGTON POST

“It is an act of courage for Inskeep to write a book about Karachi based on interviews in that city. As the well-known host of NPR’s “Morning Edition,” he must have been aware of the possible dangers he faced… A tribute to Karachi is long overdue, and Inskeep provides one. “If this book succeeds at all,” he writes, “it lets the city speak for itself and be judged on its own terms.” For those exasperated and puzzled by Pakistan, Instant City is an excellent introduction.”

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

“Informative, ambitious, chaotic, and sometimes glorious”

The Washington Post
It is an act of courage for Inskeep to write a book about Karachi based on interviews in that city. As the well-known host of NPR's “Morning Edition,” he must have been aware of the possible dangers he faced… A tribute to Karachi is long overdue, and Inskeep provides one. “If this book succeeds at all,” he writes, “it lets the city speak for itself and be judged on its own terms.” For those exasperated and puzzled by Pakistan, Instant City is an excellent introduction.
Christian Science Monitor
Informative, ambitious, chaotic, and sometimes glorious
From the Publisher
“It is an act of courage for Inskeep to write a book about Karachi based on interviews in that city. As the well-known host of NPR’s “Morning Edition,” he must have been aware of the possible dangers he faced… A tribute to Karachi is long overdue, and Inskeep provides one. “If this book succeeds at all,” he writes, “it lets the city speak for itself and be judged on its own terms.” For those exasperated and puzzled by Pakistan, Instant City is an excellent introduction.” — THE WASHINGTON POST

“Informative, ambitious, chaotic, and sometimes glorious”CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

“Absorbing… reads like a sophisticated thriller as the author traces the movements of a number of people… he keeps his narrative well paced and full of small surprises. The book sparkles when Inskeep takes an unexpected turn and follows a stranger, or when he tracks down a new trend to illuminate a new facet of the city. The old man he encounters outside a liquor shop, the slum under construction, the upscale leisure park tell us more about the city than any bomb blast…Not many politicians read books in Karachi, but if they were to read one, let it be Instant City.PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

“Steve Inskeep has written a magnificent, engrossing book about one of the world’s most vivid and fascinating cities. His subject – urban Pakistan’s struggles and zig-zagging achievements – is of deep and timely importance. His voice reflects the best traditions of politically alert travel writing, endowed with calm wisdom and curious empathy.” — Steve Coll, author of GHOST WARS and THE BIN LADENS

“Urbanity is our certain and fixed future. How human beings live together—or fail to live together—compacted into great cities where a world’s races, religions and ancestries share ever-tighter quarters—this is the fundamental question for the new century. With Instant City, Steve Inskeep tells the story of a single violent and volatile day in the teeming streets of Karachi, Pakistan. In doing so, he reveals what is now at stake not just for Pakistan, or Asia, but for the human species. This is thoughtful, important work.”

David Simon, creator of HBO’s "The Wire;" author of HOMICIDE

Akbar Ahmed
Inskeep writes with dramatic flair…A tribute to Karachi is long overdue, and Inskeep provides one. "If this book succeeds at all," he writes, "it lets the city speak for itself and be judged on its own terms." For those exasperated and puzzled by Pakistan, Instant City is an excellent introduction.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Reviewed by Mohammed Hanif. On December 29, 2009, a bomb blast targeted the annual Shia procession in Karachi. Forty days later another Shia procession was attacked. When the victims, survivors, and their distraught families arrived at Karachi’s Jinnah Hospital, another bomb blew up outside the emergency ward. And as the debris from the blast was being cleared, someone noticed a computer monitor strapped to a motorbike parked in the compound. The bomb disposal experts discovered yet another improvised bomb inside the monitor and defused it. Just another day in Pakistan’s largest city.In the absorbing Instant City, Inskeep, cohost of NPR’s Morning Edition, sets out to recreate the events of these two days. The opening reads like a sophisticated thriller as the author traces the movements of a number of people: the participants in the procession, the law enforcers monitoring their video screens, shop owners about to lose their half-century-old businesses, and ambulance drivers who’ll have to clear up the bloody mess. As we reach the computer monitor strapped to a motorbike in the midst of the carnage, Inskeep plunges us into another turbulent time—the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan—and he gives us very readable capsule histories of the various communities and political forces that have brought us to this hospital compound.This is an intimate book about a mega-city, and Inskeep succeeds by keeping his ambitions modest. By trying to understand the horrific event of one particular day, he keeps his narrative well paced and full of small surprises. The book sparkles when Inskeep takes an unexpected turn and follows a stranger, or when he tracks down a new trend to illuminate a new facet of the city. The old man he encounters outside a liquor shop, the slum under construction, the upscale leisure park tell us more about the city than any bomb blast.Occasionally, Inskeep overreaches—such as when he tries to understand the mood of the nation by deconstructing the wardrobe of its founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, or speculating about the personal lives of Pakistan’s most famous philanthropist couple. It’s in the ordinary fates of the ordinary people that he finds the extraordinary spirit of Karachi. The story of Tony Tufail, a cabaret manager who built Pakistan’s first casino but could never open its doors is heartbreaking, yet foreshadows the new religious trends. The story of Nasir Baloch, a young activist, fighting to save his neighborhood park, is evoked in loving detail. Baloch takes on the land mafia encroaching the park and is shot dead. Inskeep tries to offset such tragic stories by comparing Karachi to other megacities around the world, and in the end includes an obligatory set of recommendations. Not many politicians read books in Karachi, but if they were to read one, let it be Instant City. (Oct.)Mohammed Hanif is author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes (Vintage, 2009). His new book, Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, will be publishsed by Knopf next May. He lives in Karachi.
Library Journal
Megacities keep mushrooming up in our overcrowded world, and Inskeep, the cohost of NPR's Morning Edition, uses Karachi, Pakistan, as an example. In 1941, it was a sleepy port town of 350,000; now it's home to more than 13 million, often violently divided over religion, ethnicity, and politics yet noted for innovative projects aimed at helping the poor help themselves. So much literature on the Middle East, but this goes behind the headlines and has that NPR advantage. With a national tour.
Kirkus Reviews

NPR'sMorning Edition co-host Inskeep explores Karachi, Pakistan, a mega-city of hopes and conflict, "a field of operations for the makers of buildings and bombs."

Karachi is an "instant city," where, as with Shanghai and Istanbul, the population has soared with unprecedented speed. In 1945, Karachi had a population of 400,000; today it is 13 million. Millions arrived during the partition of India, still more from what is now Bangladesh, and millions more have fled the violence of Pakistan's northern border with Afghanistan. Amid a combustible mix of religious difference—though the population is overwhelmingly Muslim—and divisions of class, language and even ancestral home village, Karachi is a city where "[l]ifelong residents and newcomers alike jostle for power and resources in a swiftly evolving landscape that disorients them all." As venal political parties both breed and feed on the city's divisions, battles over the riches to be made, especially in real estate, have changed the city. Inskeep examines this part of the culture, but he also looks at those simply trying to make a difference. An emergency-room doctor tended to all wounded by bombings and riots, as the emergency room itself became a target for terrorism. Another resident built a charitable empire by providing cheap or free ambulance service and pharmaceuticals. An organizer helped the poor build housing and find basic services, creating self-governing enclaves within a debased political system. Developers have dreamt of, and at times realized, skyscrapers, malls, hotels and city centers to attract the foreign capital Karachi needs to survive in an age of globalization. Inskeep seemingly looked at everything and talked to everyone—religious zealots, political bosses and people simply trying to get by. Here he finds the promise of Karachi, "the most powerful force in the instant city; the desire of millions of people—simple quiet, humble, and relentless, no matter what the odds—to make their lives just a tiny bit better than they were."

Passionate and compassionate reporting on an extraordinary city.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143122166
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/25/2012
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
716,982
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Shuja Nawaz
"Steve Inskeep has captured the vibrant, violent, pulsating rhythms of Karachi with a near native sensibility. His cinema verité prose brings you the sights and smells of this dystopian megalopolis on which the future of Pakistan may be riding. If Karachi can survive its violence and corruption, and thrive as a pluralistic city state then there is hope for Pakistan. If not, then the future is grim for this benighted land. Karachi represents the rich mosaic of Pakistan's different ethnic groups. It is the financial heart of a country whose instruments of state may be failing but whose inhabitants show great determination and creativity, surviving against all odds. Inskeep has written a worthy tribute to Karachi. He blends brilliant storytelling with an eye for detail and nuance that makes Karachi's sights and sounds come alive."--(Shuja Nawaz, Director, South Asia Center, Atlantic Council and author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within)
Martha Raddatz
"Steve Inskeep is a gifted writer and explorer who takes on life and death in Karachi like no other before him. The same mix of mesmerizing storytelling skills, journalistic integrity and downright courage that Inskeep brings us daily on NPR makes for a gripping read. You can hear Inskeep's inimitable voice on every page, excitedly guiding you through the rich and bloody history of this dangerous city. Most importantly, through a compelling cast of characters who help tell the story in such vivid detail, you realize how profoundly important this city is to us all." --(Martha Raddatz, ABC News Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent)
David Simon
"Urbanity is our certain and fixed future. How human beings live together—or fail to live together—compacted into great cities where a world's races, religions and ancestries share ever-tighter quarters—this is the fundamental question for the new century. With Instant City, Steve Inskeep tells the story of a single violent and volatile day in the teeming streets of Karachi, Pakistan. In doing so, he reveals what is now at stake not just for Pakistan, or Asia, but for the human species. This is thoughtful, important work."--(David Simon, creator of HBO's "The Wire" and "Treme" and author of Homicide and The Corner)
Steve Coll
"Steve Inskeep has written a magnificent, engrossing book about one of the world's most vivid and fascinating cities. His subject – urban Pakistan's struggles and zig-zagging achievements – is of deep and timely importance. His voice reflects the best traditions of politically alert travel writing, endowed with calm wisdom and curious empathy." --(Steve Coll, author of Ghost Wars and The Bin Ladens)

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