i have been reading Kamila Shamsie’ Kartography in my spare time these days and i must say it is darn exciting, especially because its written on a backdrop of Karachi,an unknown place an unknown time. Set in the Eighties and Nineties in one of Pakistan’s largest cities, it is a tale of friendship, love, betrayal and anguish. Karachi is just as important to the story as the two main characters, Raheen and Karim. For those who lived through those years in Karachi, the novel serves as a bittersweet reminder of a difficult time in a beloved city.
Thirteen years old, Raheen and Karim, are best friends who’ve been together since birth. Their winter holidays have just started and their plans of spending their days roaming the city with two other close friends, Zia and Sonia, are being spoiled by their parents. Nervous about the safety of their children as the ethnic violence escalates, the parents are planning to send them away for the holidays.
what is refreshing is the idiosyncrasies which is so similar to Indian value system and culture…one would automatically assume that since situated in Karachi its a story of violence,a very conservative picture that mirrored the society…but one is pleasantly surprised that its a wonderful image of a refine,modern and extremely well educated society…a picture of a society very similar to the one’s we live in..dispelling a lot of misconceptions that we have of an unknown land…
As the years pass, some unpleasant truths are revealed and the four friends are forced to face bigger issues in each of their lives. As children, Raheen and Karim could read each other’s thoughts and complete each other’s sentences. But as they reach their early twenties, events from their parents’ past put them at odds with each other and their lifelong friendship at risk.
With the parallel story of Yasmin, Zafar, Maheen and Ali who are the parents of Raheen and Karim, the author touches on another dark period from Pakistan’s history. The four parents have known each other since their college days when they lived through the civil war which resulted in the creation of an independent Bangladesh in 1971. That year has haunting memories for the four parents. It is also the year in which the parents swapped partners yet managed to keep their friendship alive. Raheen struggles to untangle her parents’ past which is colliding with her own world.
The novel which starts out at slow pace soon becomes difficult to put down. Kartography is a coming of age story of four friends. Shamsie’s characters are vividly portrayed. Each is very different from the other. Though mainly a story about Raheen and Karim, Zia and Sonia are every bit as intriguing. The flashbacks to the parents’ college days are revealing of another time and mind set. Karachi is portrayed as a complex city, lively and dangerous. One thing is for sure, as a native, Kamila Shamsie is in love with her city and manages to invoke in the reader a longing to experience the vibrant life there.