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May 6, 2009

Review: "The Wish Maker" by Ali Sethi

"The Wish Maker" by Ali Sethi
Pub. date June 11th 2009 by Riverhead
Hardcover, 416 pages isbn 1594488754
The Burton Review Rating: 1 star

Product Description From Amazon: "A major new international voice debuts with a sweeping story of love, friendship, and family ties that brings to life the turbulent world of modern Pakistan.The unforgettable story of a fatherless boy growing up in a household of outspoken women, The Wish Maker is also a tale of sacrifice, betrayal, and indestructible friendship. Zaki Shirazi and his female cousin Samar Api were raised to consider themselves “part of the same litter.” Together they watched American television and memorized dialogue from Bollywood movies, attended dangerous protests, and formed secret friendships. In a household run by Zaki’s crusading political journalist mother and iron-willed grandmother, it was impossible to imagine a future that could hold anything different for either of them. But adolescence approaches and the cousins’ fates diverge. Samar’s unconventional behavior—in which Zaki has played the role of devoted helper—brings severe consequences for her, while Zaki is sent out to discover the world for himself. It is only after years of separation from Samar that he is forced to confront the true nature of happiness, selfhood, and commitment to those he loves most. Chronicling world-changing events that have never been so intimately observed in fiction and brimming with unmistakable warmth and humor, The Wish Maker is the powerful account of a family and an era, a story that shows how, even in the most rapidly shifting circumstances, there are bonds that survive the tugs of convention, time, and history."

I had high hopes for this book. I know very little about Pakistani culture, and still know very little. Understanding that this is a novel, and not meant to teach me about anything, I still just could not get interested in the many characters this is written about. It is centered on a young boy, Zaki, and what he goes through living with a lot of women, including a female cousin Samar Api from whom most of the teen-aged type drama comes from. His day to day experiences are written out, and the prose was nothing to complain about, it was simply the dryness of the actual story that made it difficult to read. It reverts from Zaki's point of view to then focusing on his mother, at an earlier time, and at another interval it goes into a different character, at another time... I just could not get my head wrapped around it since it bounced me around like a ping-pong ball. I dislike books that go back and forth in time with multiple characters as I cannot get a mental grip on it. I assume the author was aiming for a family saga type of genre with the way the many characters were given special attention, from the grandmother to the cousin to a friend.

It actually started off promising, I did enjoy it for the first 100 pages or so. And this is a debut novel so I was making allowances for it. But it was about halfway through when I started feeling let down. I did appreciate the referrals to Benazir, although I had to use Wikipedia to figure out the reality of what was going on when they forced Benazir Bhutto out as Prime Minister for the first time. I disliked Zaki's sexual experiences, which were few, but it probably jaded and disgusted me from then and there. Yet, I read the book to about page 305 of my Advance Reading Copy and just flipped through the rest, I spent 4 days on this book and did not look forward to having to pick it up again. I wanted to get to some point where I would say "this was worth it" but I didn't foresee it happening.

I am fully aware that this is my opinion only, and I can see on Amazon two favorable reviews on it so there has got to be an audience for this coming-of-age-story-in-a-round-about-way-type of book (is there a plot here?). Perhaps for those in or close to Pakistan this would be a winner. Unfortunately, that just wasn't me for this one. I am curious to know what others felt about it though, am I just a complete fool who cannot recognize pure genius? We shall see.