Picks and Pans Review: A Fresh Voice from Pakistan

updated 06/15/2009 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/15/2009 AT 01:00 AM EDT

The Wish Maker
by Ali Sethi |

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Much as Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner did for Afghanistan, this timely first novel, told through the eyes of a boy grappling with adolescence, brings to life the tumult of Pakistan. Part travelogue, part history lesson, the story takes place primarily during the heady 1990s of Benazir Bhutto. Following narrator Zaki Shirazi and his female cousin Samir Ali through their upbringing in a feisty matriarchal household in Lahore, the author, a Harvard-educated Pakistani native, captures a critical time of change in his homeland: Rickshaws rattle by Pizza Huts; boys buy bootleg liquor, while Islamic fundamentalism percolates in the mosques. As Zaki and Samir mature, the stark disparities between girls' and boys' opportunities in education, work and marriage become poignantly clear. Though the novel lacks a riveting central plot, individual vignettes, especially those detailing female characters, are powerful and vivid, providing insight into a country that is increasingly pivotal on the world stage.

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