I’ve had this book sitting on my shelf for a few months now, so I apologize this review is so late. It was originally published in India in 2012, and the lovely Calgary-based Freehand Books released it in the fall of 2014. If I had known that the book was so good (and such a quick read!), I would have pushed myself to pick it up weeks ago.
Between Clay and Dust tells the story of two characters: an aged wrestler who’s struggling with the passing down of his title to his brother, and a beautiful prostitute with a prestigious past, both living in a small city in Pakistan, both coming to terms with the slow decay of their power. Their urban environment is reflective of their lives: both are crumbling.
As I’m thinking back to the narrative itself, I realize that this book can come across as quite depressing to some, because not a lot of positive things happen in it. However, the novel is so short and precise that you don’t come away from it feeling unhappy, it’s meant to teach us a lesson, much like a fable does for children. Farooqi’s writing is simple, and easy to follow, even though he throws in terms specific to wresting or courtesans that you wouldn’t understand unless you looked them up. His sentences don’t contain more than what is absolutely necessary, and that is a skill that so many writers (and bloggers like myself) struggle with these days.
One of the review quotes on the back of the book states: “Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s new novel is the literary equivalent of an artfully executed miniature painting” (Outlook India). I couldn’t agree more! I’ve only found a few books like this in my reading travels:short yet very affecting. A book doesn’t have to be an epic tome that takes place over centuries to leave a lasting impression on the reader. In fact, I find the shorter the book, the more it resonates, because it leaves the reader with that breathing space once they’ve turned the last page to reflect on what they’ve read.
I should also mention that this book was a finalist for the Man Asian Literary Prize, which is a prestigious international award, so I’m not the only who thinks is a worthwhile read!
So pick up Between Clay and Dust if you have a free afternoon and you want to read something in its entirety. You’ll have time to spare, but lots to think about when you go to bed that evening.