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7th March 2016

Review: Revolt

Books Editor Yasmin Mannan reviews Qaisra Shahraz’s third and most recent novel Revolt, which is a triumphant exploration of everything that is it to be human

I rarely relish reading novels the way I relished reading Revolt. Set both in Gulistan, a fictional village in Pakistan, and in England, Revolt is a thoroughly humanising and engrossing story of honour, guilt, pride, sacrifice, and love. I found it particularly poignant to read, as someone who has always felt detached from my Pakistani heritage, because it gives an enlightening insight into a world which is so often misrepresented and warped in mainstream depictions.

The best thing about Revolt is how it makes you see why people think the way they do and makes you sometimes love and hate the characters in equal measure. It’s a testament to the way we are as humans—we can love each other despite our imperfections and despite the fact we hold grudges, and often the people we hurt the most are the ones we love the most. Whether Shahraz is dealing with unrequited love or the perils of pride, she opens up the humanity in all her characters and in the process she debunks preconceptions and destroys assumptions.

Qaisra Shahraz expertly humanises people who are too often dehumanised—women, servants, people of colour, and often all three combined. She inspires empathy through stunning characterisation of people of different races, different social backgrounds, and with different hopes for the future but all ultimately united in their humanity. She shows how we all have a choice and sometimes we are the victims of consequences which were outside of our control. This is not to forget that our own actions can make people suffer without us ever knowing. I’m aware this sounds all sounds very abstract but I don’t want to give too much away. Shahraz’s writing not only gives a voice to the voiceless but it unashamedly tackles uncomfortable issues which need to be thought about critically—now more than ever.

A personal favourite feature of Revolt is the glossary of Urdu words at the back. This gives the novel an edge and highlights the musicality of Urdu as a language. I recognised a few words, my favourite being ‘laddoo’, which are ball-shaped South Asian sweets which are delicious but terrible for you. My mum has also been known to refer to my cats as ‘laddoos’, as their weight gain is often visible. What I’m trying to get at here is that the versatility of Urdu as a language never ceases to impress me but Shahraz, who writes in English as it is her first language, manages to convey the depth of emotion which Urdu brings in the same way with English.

Although I’m aware that this novel particularly resonates with me, I think anyone who has experienced trouble with the idea of ‘identity’ or is interested in reading something truly refreshing and enlightening will really enjoy reading Revolt. Shahraz has spoken about how her writing is a vessel for social change and these novels have the power to change damaging perceptions while being really entertaining to read. Her first novel The Holy Woman, and its sequel Typhoon, are both also highly-acclaimed and deal with love, family politics, religion, deceit, and guilt.

Qaisra Shahraz is doing a reading at The University of Manchester on 11th March.

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