Fatima Bhutto’s stunning debut novel chronicles the lives of five young people trying to live and love in a world on fire. Set during the American invasion of Afghanistan, The Shadow of the Crescent Moon begins and ends one rain-swept Friday morning in Mir Ali, a small town in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas close to the Afghan border.
Three brothers meet for breakfast. Soon after, the eldest, Aman Erum, recently returned from America, hails a taxi to the local mosque. Sikandar, a doctor, drives to the hospital where he works, but must first stop to collect his troubled wife, who has not joined the family that morning. No one knows where Mina goes these days. Sikandar is exhausted by Mina’s instability and by the pall of grief that has enveloped his family. But when, later in the morning, the two are taken hostage by members of the Taliban, Mina will prove to be stronger than anyone could have imagined.
The youngest of the three leaves for town on a motorbike. An idealist, Hayat holds strong to his deathbed promise to their father—to free Mir Ali from oppressors. Seated behind him is a beautiful, fragile girl whose life and thoughts are overwhelmed by the war that has enveloped the place of her birth.
Three hours later their day will end in devastating circumstances.
In this beautifully observed novel, individuals are pushed to make terrible choices. And as the events of this single morning unfold, one woman is at the center of it all.
"Bhutto writes of an extraordinary place where beauty lives alongside brutality, with superb poise and a kind of defiant lyricism." —The Times (UK)
"[The Shadow of the Crescent Moon] is... a human story, with love as well as ideology - Bhutto blends the two adroitly (and) writes with great poignancy, keeping the emotional pitch high." —Financial Times
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
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|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
In a white house on Sher Hakimullah road eight thirty on Friday morning has come too early.
The bazaar is opening slowly, rearranging its schedule to accommodate Eid’s last-minute shoppers. Light drizzle hits the dusty footpaths, carefully, so as not to disturb the shopkeepers pulling up their shutters. The clouds dip low over Mir Ali and, from a distance, the fog makes it seem as though the tanks aren’t there at all. On the roofs of the town’s buildings, snipers lie in their nests, surrounded by sandbags, their military rain ponchos cold and clammy against their necks, and wait for the day to begin.
Three brothers live under the same roof – a home they share with their widowed mother, who occupies a solitary room on the ground floor, spending her days in the company of a young maid who gives her medicine and homeopathic tonics and twists her long white hair into a single plait every morning.
Two of the brothers are the other occupants of the ground-floor rooms, alongside the family kitchen and a small sitting room. Upstairs, the third brother and his family find their home in disarray as mobile phones beep in lieu of alarm clocks and showers with aged, corroded pipes drip water onto the heads of those who did not remember to fill a bucket the night before. A small cricket bat leans against a bedroom wall, next to a set of plastic cars.
Soggy towels and wet bath mats lie around the bathroom. Socks that stepped in soapy puddles and have to be discarded are strewn on the floor. Muddy footprints of dirty shoes that stomp through the wet-tiled bathroom leave traces of black rings from room to room.
Fridays are always chaotic in the house on Sher Hakimullah road and this morning difficult decisions have been made. The brothers cannot – will not – it is finally decided after some days of deliberation, pray together on Eid.
• • •
In Mir Ali, where religion crept into the town’s rocky terrain like the wild flowers that grew quietly where no grass ought to have grown, you chose your mosque carefully. Fridays were no longer about the supplicants; they were about the message delivered to them by faithful translators of the world’s clearest religion. In Mir Ali nowadays you were spoilt for choice.
There were the mellow congregations, whose mullahs invoked harmony and goodness amongst mankind. These were the mosques that did not keep their flock for long, only enough time to remind them of their duties as a promised people. The sermons might proffer some elementary guidance in such endeavours, but it was largely a drive-through service.
There were the jumma namaz mosques that specialized in distinctive foreign-policy-based diatribes – lashings of rhetoric against great satans and the little men who did their bidding. These mosques yearned for converts to their cause but they lost them in Mir Ali, where people preferred to go to the houses of God that had taught their fathers and grandfathers about justice. There was no greater cause in Mir Ali than justice.
• • •
One by one the brothers filter into the kitchen to drink their morning tea. White onions sizzle in a frying pan, sweating from the heat. The brothers arrive to claim their place at the small table, draped with a sticky plastic tablecloth, where the day’s first meal will be served – sweet parathas and omelettes with diced tomatoes, onions and green chillies. The air smells of the pepper being shaken onto the chopped onions, pungent but sweet. The three brothers take their tea without too much sugar but the aged cook, who brews the tea leaves in a blackened saucepan with fresh goat’s milk, ignores them and heaps in palmfuls of refined white sugar anyway.
On the occasion of the first day of Eid, the brothers at the morning table speak to each other in a toneless, secretive mumble. Heads bent low, they don’t talk as they normally do, with voices that come with secret smiles and banter that falls out of the mouth playfully. This morning there are few teases and no arguments, only the question of how to proceed with the day ahead.
It is too dangerous, too risky, to place all the family together in one mosque that could easily be hit. They no longer know by whom.
‘By drugged-up Saudi pubescents trained in the exact extermination of Shias,’ ventures Aman Erum, the eldest brother.
‘No, it’s not just Saudis,’ protests Sikandar, the middle of the three, as he looks around the kitchen for his wife. ‘Sometimes there’s politics behind it, not God.’ She is nowhere to be seen. He swallows his sugary tea uncomfortably.
‘Yes, yes, sometimes they’re pubescents from Afghanistan. Still Sunnis, though,’ jokes Aman Erum, folding a paratha into his mouth as he stands up to leave.
‘Where are you going?’ Sikandar shouts at him. ‘We’re eating – come back.’ He notices, as he speaks, that Hayat, the youngest brother, hasn’t lifted his eyes from the blue-and-green-checked pattern of the plastic tablecloth.
He has to go to work, Aman Erum says, to check in before Friday prayers shut the city down for the afternoon. He reminds Sikandar to pass on his business card, newly printed and designed, to a colleague at the hospital.
‘Kha, kha,’ Sikandar says, tucking the crisp white and red import/export rectangle into his wallet.
‘Wait, which mosque?’ Aman Erum asks, turning round and displaying his mouth, stuffed full of the flaky, buttered bread.
‘You’re going to Hussain Kamal street jumat,’ replies Hayat, looking up. Sikandar looks at his younger brother’s eyes; they are bloodshot. Hayat has decided where each of them will offer his supplications today. He has barely spoken all morning; this is the first time he has broken his silence. ‘You know that,’ he says to Aman Erum abruptly.
Aman Erum doesn’t look at Hayat. ‘Yes, yes,’ he mumbles, turning away from his brother. ‘I know.’ The paratha is chewed and swallowed, a hand raised in farewell, and for a second there is a lull in the siblings’ chatter as they adjust to the prospect of praying alone, without each other, for the first time.
And then the noise picks up again, seamlessly. The remaining two brothers rise to greet their aged mother, Zainab, who looks around the kitchen as she sits down at the table. ‘Where is Mina?’ she asks Sikandar as the brothers shuffle around each other to make space for two more cups of chai before their separate journeys through Mir Ali begin.
Aman Erum sits in the back of a battered yellow Mehran taxi and asks the driver to take him to Pir Roshan road. The elderly driver turns in his seat, its brown fabric ripped along the back, exposing dirty yellow foam. ‘That’s not the address you gave on the phone,’ he says, hoping to renegotiate the fare.
There’s a spring digging into Aman Erum’s back. He adjusts his body against the broken seat. ‘Let’s get moving, kah, kah.’
The taxi’s windows are all open, but Aman Erum smells something that bothers him. He can’t tell what it is. He looks at the greasy side mirrors, held together with strips of duct tape. It’s not the slackened seat belts. Aman Erum tries to roll his window further down, but it’s stuck. They drive past walls covered in red and black graffiti, political slogans written in thick cursive script. Boys in packs of four and five wrapped scarves round their faces to shield against winter nights as they painted what patches of Mir Ali were not guarded by the military. Azadi, they scrawled: freedom.
It has been months since Aman Erum returned home to Mir Ali after a long time abroad. He never thought he would come back.
Aman Erum’s childhood in Mir Ali, as compared to that of his brothers, had been idyllic. As the eldest son he had accompanied Inayat to the mosque to meet with friends and relatives every Friday after closing the family-owned carpet shop for the day. And, every summer, Aman Erum had been the fifth member of his father’s annual fishing trip to Chitral.
He would lie awake at night throughout the late winter and early spring months, the idea of the trip keeping him company and supplanting sleep. His father and his three friends, men who had grown up within walking distance of each other and whose families were now connected by marriage and children, had been going to Chitral for as long as Aman Erum could remember. He had been a small boy when his father first took him along. Their relationship had been so uncomplicated then.
Aman Erum would load up a light-blue pick-up truck with gas cylinders, tarpaulin from which a large tent would be erected for the fishermen, butter, rice, pots and pans, lentils and vegetables wrapped in sheer pink-plastic bags – enough supplies to carry the men through a five-day camp.
He lived for those summer days. Dipping his feet into the cold river in Chitral, watching his snot turn charcoal-black as he breathed in the fumes from the gas lamps and smoky fires – he never wanted to go home. He remembered blowing his mysteriously coloured mucus into thin tissues and playing cards late into the night.
When he was eleven years old, the summer of an especially bountiful fishing trip, Aman Erum fell in love.
She was twelve and he had never seen anyone so beautiful. Samarra.
He hadn’t noticed her until the moment she ran in front of him and hurled her arm upwards into the air, sending the cricket ball in her palm crashing into the wicket and forcing Aman Erum out of a game he didn’t even know Samarra was playing in.
Samarra wore jeans and played cricket and rode horses and shot pellet guns and did everything and anything she had seen her father do. When Ghazan Afridi brought home a 150cc motorcycle from his auto shop, saying little of its provenance, only that it was Chinese-made and smuggled via Kabul, Samarra learned how to drive it, relegating her father to the back seat while she tore through traffic, turning corners with the slightest swing of her hips. When Ghazan Afridi went fishing for brown trout in the icy streams of the northern valleys, Samarra held the spotted fish with two fingers hooked into its mouth as it thrashed against the rocks, its gills bursting with fresh air. Samarra never complained; she fought hard and she idolized her father. When Ghazan Afridi brought home Russian assault rifles with wooden hand guards and pistol grips, Samarra sat on the floor, her long legs covered with still unplucked downy hair tucked underneath her, and quietly field-stripped them with her father.
For five days, at the foot of the Hindu Kush’s highest peak, Samarra Afridi would be all Aman Erum’s. They would sneak out of their fathers’ tents at midnight to follow foreigners – tall, sunburned young men with sandy-coloured matted hair hidden under newly bought Chitrali pakol hats – around the local bazaar, which smelled of charcoal, until late into the night. One night as they walked along the Kunar river, Aman Erum slipped, unable to see the path ahead under the ashen moonlight, and cut his hand on the rocks by the bank. Samarra took his hand in hers and squeezed out the blood, the bad blood that would infect his body if not bled out. She dipped Aman Erum’s palm into the rushing river to ice it and to stop the bleeding. Before the sun rose, before they had to sneak back to their fathers’ tents, Aman Erum and Samarra crawled along the mossy trails on their hands and knees, digging up earthworms for the fishermen’s morning excursions.
Ghazan Afridi took the men out on walks and came back with rabbits and small birds they would skin and grill for dinner. He tried to teach Samarra how to cook, but she didn’t take to it. Ghazan Afridi couldn’t cook either, but never let that get in his way.
When they went back to Mir Ali, abandoning smoky summer bonfires made of cracked twigs and lit with Samarra’s cheap plastic lighter, Aman Erum imagined he would lose Samarra to her pack of neighbourhood friends and devoted followers. He had seen the children on their bicycles circling round her home straight from school, still wearing their uniforms. But Samarra left them to their bikes and Aman Erum watched from the window as she walked towards his house.
Samarra never once looked back at the children on the bicycles who called her name, shouting for her to stay with them. She walked straight across the gravel with her head held high, craning her neck to see if it was Aman Erum she spied at the window. When Samarra saw him she smiled, but didn’t wave hello. Instead, she walked faster, kicking the pebbles out of her way with every step. Aman Erum could still hear her friends calling out her name.
Samarra stood at his door, her palms pressed against the knitted metal of the screen door, and waited to be invited in. Aman Erum put down his books.
He didn’t know quite what to say. Samarra was his first visitor.
As dusk drew over the shade of the pine trees and Ghazan Afridi called across the street for his daughter to leave her friends and come inside, he found only a gaggle of schoolchildren. None with his daughter’s messy hair or spindly arms.
• • •
The taxi lurches over speed bumps hastily constructed in the middle of already rutted, unfinished roads. The driver opens the glove compartment and takes out a dirty cloth to wipe the rain off the steering wheel. Aman Erum touches the torn fabric of the back seat. He recognizes the smell. The taxi reeks of petrol. Aman Erum doesn’t want to dirty his shalwar kameez, freshly laundered and starched. He doesn’t want the cloying, acrid smell hanging off him today. The drizzle falls in through the cracked window, wetting Aman Erum’s face. The broken spring digs into his back again.
Aman Erum never made it into the bicycle gang; he was awkward and uncomfortable around other children. Instead, he wrote Samarra poetry, small verses in her geography copybook in school – a class he now shared with her as he had been promoted a grade above his year – and declared himself lost in love with the twelve-year-old girl whose hair was always messily tied in plaits. Aman Erum lived for the summers when Ghazan Afridi would bring his daughter to Chitral.
But Ghazan Afridi began to take longer trips out of Mir Ali. Samarra had been her father’s constant companion, his lodestar, but he left her at home more and more now. Samarra was too old, too much of a woman to accompany him. It was dangerous, he said. Samarra wasn’t afraid. She wanted to go with her father anyway. But Ghazan Afridi left Samarra with her mother, Malalai, taking his Chinese-made motorcycle on odysseys he never spoke of afterwards.
‘Wait,’ he said, pinching the air with his fingers. ‘The coming years will bring Pakistan to its knees.’ Ghazan Afridi told Samarra to be patient. They were building something big. He drove the motorbike up to Jalalabad one summer, journeying alongside the Kunar, leaving Samarra alone at camp.
Aman Erum didn’t have to wait for Samarra to come to him then. There was no interminable hanging around and killing time, sitting, as he had become used to doing, in front of the honeycomb screen door in Mir Ali, listening for the sound of her footsteps on the pebbles outside his house, with books piled on his lap, the weight of them deadening his legs.
‘What if we lived here?’ Aman Erum asked one midnight outside their fathers’ tents. ‘What if we just stayed?’ For as long as he could remember he had felt constrained in Mir Ali. He wanted to get out, to be free, to make money, to move without checkpoints and military police poking their red berets into your car and asking for your papers. The other boys of Aman Erum’s age didn’t seem to feel confined by the country’s wild borders; they didn’t feel restricted the way he did.
Samarra laughed. Even in the dark, Aman Erum could see the spotty pink of her gums. ‘This isn’t our home.’
‘But we could make it our home. I could be a guide, set up a business. Take travellers through the passes.’
Aman Erum knew about the mountains, he knew how to navigate the forests. Inayat had taught him how to magnetize a needle, rubbing it on wool cut from the sleeve of a sweater for three minutes until his fingers went numb. Inayat would watch as Aman Erum laid the needle on a leaf, making a compass to guide them through the unknown wilderness. His father had taught him maps of the land, drawn from memory and measured in footsteps, not miles. Belonging. Inayat thought his son would find belonging in this cartography of the heart. But Inayat was thinking of a different boy, a much younger son.
Aman Erum was fifteen. He had been dreaming up escape plans since taking his first trip out of Mir Ali many summers before. Chitral was all he knew of Pakistan so far. But he had seen a magazine photo spread on Bahawalpur, its sandstone palaces lit up with fairy lights, its magnificent forts and blue and white shrines. He had read about the port in Karachi, about the ships that sailed there from Greece and Turkey full of cargo, and the highways that connected the green plains of the Punjab. He would go anywhere. He didn’t care where, but he didn’t want to spend his life in Mir Ali.
‘You can’t do that.’
Samarra was sixteen.
Aman Erum stared at her green eyes, unlined except by her thick lashes. A dark-brown speck of colour escaped her iris. Even this, Aman Erum thought, looking at Samarra under Chitral’s pale moonlight, was beautiful. Her spindly arms had filled out and her voice had grown up too. Samarra pronounced her words slowly, almost languidly. Aman Erum turned away from her and looked out over the valley.
‘Of course I can. I’ve been coming here since I was a boy. I know the terrain and the trails. I’ve been hiking with Baba since – I don’t know. Ten years? There are so many travellers out here on their own. How do you think they’re getting around now? No one’s taking them to the best spots, where there’re carp and rainbow trout and the open –’
Samarra, whose hair was no longer in plaits but now loose round her shoulders, interrupted him.
‘No, you can’t choose your home. You can’t just make a new one.’
Aman Erum was quiet. She didn’t understand about the future.
Samarra, who no longer wore jeans, stood up and cleaned the grass from her shalwar, wet in patches from the dew. ‘We have a home.’
Her words were swallowed by the night. Aman Erum wasn’t listening.
• • •
The summer Samarra turned seventeen, she didn’t come to camp. No one had seen Ghazan Afridi since the spring. He had packed his motorcycle with enough food for a week’s drive. He waved goodbye to his wife as she stood at the doorstep and kissed his daughter’s hand. Think of me, Ghazan Afridi said. He touched her hand to his eyes. Ghazan Afridi didn’t say where he was going; he rarely did those days. Think of me. That was all he said. It was all Samarra ever did.
The fathers considered delaying the trip, breaking the tradition to keep vigil for Ghazan Afridi, but in the end they went. Who knew when he would return? Who knew if he would? And in what shape?
‘It might be months. It could be years, even,’ Aman Erum said to Samarra Afridi by way of commiseration as he packed for the trip.
Rolling the tarpaulin neatly onto the back of Inayat’s light-blue pick-up truck, Aman Erum said the word years. Samarra had heard people gossip; she had heard them say that Ghazan Afridi had another family across the border. She had heard people say he had other children. That he had been running training camps. Taking money from other countries, from other states. She had heard all those things, and she’d been happy to hear them. Nothing was worse than what she imagined.
‘Maybe years, Samarra – most probably just a few months, but even if it’s years, he’ll return.’
He loaded the truck and nodded his head. ‘Maybe years.’
But Ghazan Afridi never did come back.
Aman Erum climbed into the back of the truck, and sat holding a jerrycan of petrol between his knees. He envied Ghazan Afridi. He had got out. It almost didn’t matter to Aman Erum how. He was so sick of Mir Ali. ‘Samarra, you know more than any of us that he’ll return.’ He spoke to her as he adjusted the can, pointing the nozzle away from him and making sure he had enough space to stretch out his legs, but when he looked up he saw Samarra had already left. He couldn’t see her but he heard her footsteps fading on the pebbles outside his house.
Aman Erum wrote Samarra poetry until their adulthood brought their communication by letter, and therefore unchaperoned, to the notice of the grown-ups who guarded their children’s hearts.
Samarra never wrote a single line of poetry back to her beloved. She allowed Aman Erum’s serenades and consented to receive every stanza and story as a necessary diversion, but she was too heartbroken to reply in verse. Samarra would not go to university like Aman Erum. She would stop at matric, a tenth-grade education which the world had decided was more than enough for a seventeen-year-old beauty who would never, they hoped, have cause for further studies. Her life would be blessed, they imagined, and she would not have the time to study once married and living in her husband’s home. Perhaps Ghazan Afridi would have returned to see his daughter settled by then. Wouldn’t she like that? Wouldn’t that be nice?
Samarra wouldn’t complain. She would study on her own, at home, reading second-hand physics books bought at the small bookstall at the bazaar that sold comic books and dog-eared copies of Rahman Baba’s poetry, and doing exercises in used exam workbooks until eventually the elders had no choice but to relent and allow her to attend the local university, provided she stopped after a Bachelor’s degree.
Aman Erum had applied, quietly, to the army. It was a secret attempt to flee. He was young, he had no record, his mother’s family was clean. He thought they might take him out of Mir Ali and into one of their cadet colleges. Two things happened. First, he was turned down. The army didn’t want men from these parts; they didn’t even have a recruitment office in Mir Ali then. The officer Aman Erum had spoken to, the lone man in khaki green on duty at the base, had laughed in his face.
So, first, Aman Erum had been turned down, and second, Inayat had found out. Aman Erum never knew how his father discovered his attempt to enlist in the armed forces – he hadn’t said a word to his mother or brothers – but Inayat knew. Discussing his second option, his only viable option, at the kitchen table one evening Aman Erum spoke of studying commerce at the local university.
‘It would be a step, obviously. I’m not going to study commerce just so I can stay in Mir Ali and haggle over the price of carpets. It would give me the foundation to apply for further studies abroad. Yes, fine, it will be expensive but if I work hard here perhaps I can get a scholarship.’
Aman Erum devoted more time to thinking about himself as he grew older and became bolder about expressing his desires. Sikandar, the middle brother, had been listening and holding a broken-off bite of rotay in mid-air.
‘How much do you think?’
Aman Erum considered the question. ‘I’d have to pay – it would be lakhs – even with a scholarship, but probably only the cost of housing and living.’
At that, Inayat, who ate very little, only some yoghurt with his rotay, pushed his plate away. ‘You will have to pay for your choices, Aman Erum, much more than you realize.’
The words hung between them.
Aman Erum’s heart started to beat fast, too fast. He looked at his own plate, filled with food he hadn’t touched because he’d been so busy talking. He picked up a piece of lamb, a small charred boti, and put it in his mouth.
Inayat placed his hands on the table and lifted himself out of his chair. He left the kitchen without another word.
The only way out for Aman Erum, then, was business. He had to earn his way out. Aman Erum was the eldest son, the one who would set the way for his brothers to follow, a way out of the carpet business the family had struggled in for decades – and which was now endangered because of the halting of trade routes and the army’s insistence on being given a share in the transportation of rugs across the Northern Frontiers.
‘Askari Carpets!’ laughed Aman Erum’s father, his hair a bright white from the roots of his scalp to the down of his beard and neatly trimmed moustache. ‘Imagine that,’ he said, and laughed less confidently, more softly.
‘They will have put their fingers everywhere, even on the ground on which we stand and the fibres through which we weave our stories.’
• • •
Inayat had fought in the first battle for Mir Ali in the 1950s, and had survived. He had fought amongst the bravest, against the nervous young soldiers of Pakistan’s new army. He had raised his young sons on the stories of Mir Ali’s struggles.
‘After a fortnight of camping in the hills and peaks on our bellies, ducking bullets and trading fire with monstrous machines, we would dust off our shawls that doubled as elbow rests and mufflers and pillows and welcome in the next regiment that came from the city to take our place. After donating our leftover tea leaves and warmest winter protection, we walked an hour and a half to the doorsteps of our mothers’ homes.’
‘Did you go back?’ Aman Erum must have been fifteen. He was only a boy.
For many years after that conversation, Inayat shook with the memory of this question, a query Aman Erum did not even remember making.
‘Did we go back? Did we go back?’
Inayat shook his head and ran his hands through his hair.
Aman Erum did not remember asking if the rebels returned to the battlefield. But later in life, as he began to withdraw from Mir Ali, he remembered other questions from his teenage years.
‘The next two decades we spent in hiding, in torture camps, in unknown and unmarked cells across the country.’ As his body aged, as his shoulders drooped and the white hair of his eyebrows grew, and as Inayat’s lungs strained against his ribcage, he committed the remainder of his life to passing on the memories of a youth lived in battle, fighting for Mir Ali.
‘The state did not wait, this time, for a rebel band to cross a frontier and plant a flag or issue a proclamation of independence and self-rule. This time they came to us first. They waited for the lull in fighting to settle in fully. For us fighters to take off our magazine clips, our rugged boots and camouflage, and return to the daily lives and uniforms that took us to work as professors and shopkeepers and economics students and plumbers. And then they sent the soldiers in.’
Thousands of them, in convoys of armoured vehicles, weighed down with garlands of assault weapons and hand grenades, flooded into Mir Ali. They came in conquering battalions and in plain clothes. Aman Erum knew the story by heart.
Doors were broken down in the dead of night, men were kidnapped from their streets, women were widowed and children were orphaned to teach the town its most important lesson: there was no match for the ruthlessness of the state. Another generation of male warriors would not grow in Mir Ali.
Inayat brought himself to tears as he spoke.
‘Some of the elders were able to escape across the border to Afghanistan; some of their sons joined them and were eventually hunted down – killed and left to bleed on faraway soil and buried in no-man’s-land. For a time, till the late seventies, the state believed – truly believed! – that they had beaten the rebellion out of the people of Mir Ali.’
Aman Erum remembered this question now.
‘Haven’t they already?’
And he would never forget the silence that followed.
• • •
Inayat did not tell Aman Erum his stories from then on. Inayat was a sentinel of Mir Ali’s history; he checked for those with whom his nostalgia might be shared and for those to whom it should be denied.
‘Don’t isolate the boy,’ Zainab begged her husband as she watched him take their youngest into his memory, nightly feeding Hayat the stories while Aman Erum was left to his schoolbooks. ‘You’re excluding him.’
‘He’s too angry,’ Inayat would say quietly. ‘He counts my defeats.’
‘Aman Erum is just a boy,’ Zainab argued. ‘He won’t understand why you speak to Hayat about these stories and not to him.’
Inayat would shake his head and say quietly, ‘He understands very well, Zainab.’
• • •
Mir Ali’s history continued like this.
Most Pakistanis thought of Mir Ali with the same hostility they reserved for India or Bangladesh; insiders – traitors – who fought their way out of the body and somehow made it on their own without the glory of the crescent moon and star shining overhead.
But the shadow of that moon never faded over Mir Ali. It hung over its sky night after night, condemning the town to life under its cold shadow.
Mir Ali had stalled. Aman Erum refused to be stymied alongside it.
Aman Erum wanted to leave. He wanted a stamped passport out of his strangled home. But he said, convincingly, that it was only the opportunity to work freely that he wanted – a living that could not be threatened away.
He could make a business anywhere, he told his mother, who knew nothing about free markets but often dreamed of the world. He could take a flight to Australia and set up an international travel agency marketing itself towards immigrants, those whose home countries did not feature on routes advertised at Qantas office desks or listed on their computers.
He could go to Canada – there were immigrants there too, living in empty, undecorated homes – and import local handicrafts that would be a reminder of the landscapes left thousands of miles away as they built their new Canadian lives.
England. He had heard of neighbours’ sons who left for England and worked in corner stores and restaurants until they built neighbourhoods out of their enterprise. It would be easy, Aman Erum told his family, his young brothers, once he learned the international language of business.
His brothers, younger by months and then by years, followed his plans avidly. Sikandar even silently marked Aman Erum’s university textbooks as his own for when he also earned a place to study commerce. Together, he and Hayat waited for invitations to be offered, for chances to become partners in Aman Erum’s yet-to-be-named, yet-to-be-established international businesses.
But Aman Erum’s invitations never came without a price.
• • •
What People are Saying About This
“[THE SHADOW OF THE CRESCENT MOON] rotates among the points of view of three brothers, telling stories of past and present violence and building to a fever pitch of terror…Bhutto has crafted a timely, earnest portrait of a family torn apart by the machinations of other people’s war games and desperately trying to survive.”
Jeet Thayil, author of Narcopolis
"This spare propulsive novel makes a region rarely seen in contemporary fiction seem familiar, even intimate. Most notably, it portrays love and war as twin antagonists in the oldest of conflict zones, the family."
Héctor Abad, author of Oblivion: A Memoir
"Three brothers and three destinies—Personal advantage, altruism and a political struggle. Each one with his motives and small and large heroisms. A mature and extraordinary first novel which reads like a politico-religious thriller. It allows a reader to enter one of the most complex regions of the world—the frontier zone between Pakistan and Afghanistan."
Pankaj Mishra, author of From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia
"A first novel of uncommon poise and acuity, The Shadow of the Crescent Moon is set in an old and protracted war for land and dignity. But its swift and suspenseful narrative describes a fiercely contemporary battle in the human heart: between the seductive fantasy of personal freedom and the tenacious claims of family, community and history."
"[The Shadow of the Crescent Moon] is... a human story, with love as well as ideology - Bhutto blends the two adroitly (and) writes with great poignancy, keeping the emotional pitch high."
The Times (UK)
"Bhutto writes of an extraordinary place where beauty lives alongside brutality, with superb poise and a kind of defiant lyricism."
The National (UK)
"Stunning... Few debut novels can adequately explore such colossal themes as betrayal and allegiance, or persuasively render fear, doubt and determination."
Radio 4 (UK)
"Incredibly ambitious, extremely powerful and moving."
Company Magazine (UK)
Mail on Sunday (UK)
"Concise, elegant. Bhutto is a gifted and compelling writer, economically and poetically summoning up this beautiful mountainous backwater."
Sunday Express (UK)
"Powerful, compelling, moving inexorably to a devastating conclusion."
Evening Standard (UK)
"[Explores] the divisive split between those suffering from the direct consequences of war and a generation of unaware, complacent young Pakistanis."
New Statesman (UK) Books of the Year
"It's a heart-stopping thriller, as well as an important political commentary about oppression, occupation and war. Most strikingly, though, it's a devastating love story."
"The novel is set over the course of one morning in a small town in Pakistan's tribal regions [and] follows the story of three brothers who are forced to make difficult choices. But the heart of the novel, for Bhutto, lies in the female characters."
Sunday Telegraph (UK)
"Thought-provoking. Above all, what The Shadow of the Crescent Moon captures so well is not just the trauma of war, but also the conflicts of contemporary Pakistanis, torn between remaining faithful to the legacy of previous generations, and their own dreams of choosing their own destiny."