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Winner of the Global Humanities Translation Prize The Tale of the Missing Man Dastan e Lapata is a milestone in Indo Muslim literature A refreshingly playful novel it explores modern Muslim life in the wake of the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan Zamir Ahmad Khan suffers from a mix of alienation guilt and postmodern anxiety that defies diagnosis His wife abandons him to his reflections about his childhood writing ill fated affairs and his hometown Bhopal as he attempts to unravel the lies that brought him to his current state while weaving new ones A novel of a heroic uest gone awry The Tale of the Missing Man artfully twists the conventions of the Urdu romance or dastan tradition where heroes chase brave exploits that are invariably rewarded by love The hero of Ahtesham’s tale living in the fast changing city of Bhopal during the 1970s and ’80s suffers an identity crisis of epic proportions he is lost missing and unknown both to himself and to others The result is a twofold uest in which the fate of protagonist and writer become inextricably and ironically linked The lost hero sets out in search of himself while the author goes in search of the lost hero his fictionalized alter ego New York magazine cited the book as one of “the world's best untranslated novels” In addition to raising important uestions about Muslim identity Ahtesham offers a very funny and thoroughly self reflective commentary on the modern author’s difficulties in writing autobiography The Global Humanities Translation Prize is awarded annually to a previously unpublished translation that strikes the delicate balance between scholarly rigor aesthetic grace and general readability as judged by a rotating committee of Northwestern faculty distinguished international scholars writers and public intellectuals The Prize is organized by the Global Humanities Initiative which is jointly supported by Northwestern University’s Buffett Institute for Global Studies and Kaplan Institute for the Humanities  


10 thoughts on “Dastan e Lapata

  1. says:

    I am a huge fan of historical fiction and very interested in intercultural and religious practices and beliefs While the premise of this book was interesting and had a lot of potential in general I feel it didn't uite live up to my expectations The idea behind it was funny and it could have been very entertaining Misadventure or mishap I suppose is the main idea He's not a very present father nor is he a reliable worker He's unfortunate in most areas of his life actually This story could have been much entertaining and I can't help feeling that perhaps it lost some of its humour in translation It has potential though and may appeal to others than it did to me


  2. says:

    See of my book reviews on my blog Literary FlitsDNFBoth Ahtesham's original Hindi novel and its English translation have been highly praised so I looked forward to reading this story Unfortunately it's not a book I could appreciate and I stopped reading at just over half way through As when I read A Long Blue Monday I struggled to have any connection with the first person narrator Zamir Ahmad Khan recounts various moments and anecdotes from his life most of which have a self pitying tone Plus there's a vast cast of family and friends to try and remember which was almost impossible when very few of them seem to exist as than their name I did enjoy occasional glimpses of Bhopal the Indian city in which most of The Tale Of The Missing Man is set but I otherwise I am afraid I was mostly just bored Disappointing


  3. says:

    ProsA man is having a midlife or near the end of life crisis His relatives and significant others old and young are presented as snippets of his memories in terms of the one thing that made them uniue I liked the way he starts remembering all the relatives from his childhood etc his father's relatives mother's relatives etc For example while reading this book my mind drifted off to my Ami's khaala whom we called 'Gujrat Auntie' actual name Nawab Bibi who lived in Pakistani Gujrat tending to her parents' land had a scar on face never married was a huge help to Ami in troubled times as she was to everyone else Mamoon Khaala etc used to knit the cardigans we wore to school used to bring matti kay khilonay handmade toys of mud with paint and design on them sold on streets of Gujrat for my younger brother and I whenever she visited us or how we went to visit her during school summer vacations and her house was in a small street and an old architecture courtyard in middle with rooms all around with tree and a goat etc people from our childhood whose entire lives are reduced to what they meant to us or how they were seen by us The nature of memories is uiet peaceful ordinary unless the protagonist regrets an action or wonders why a person's life took a particular courseConsThis book is promoted by publishers as 'an Indian Muslim experience' that it 'raises important uestions about Muslim identity' and I find that troublesome and racist I don't think talking about a middle or upper middle class the people who lived in havelis bungalows under joint family system the tamarind tree the streets of Bhopal and the changes in the city makes a story a 'Muslim' story; or makes the depicted people such as the corrupt shopkeeper a spinster aunt fed up of hypocrisy of Maulvis or Haj goers Bhai Jaan who liked to hunt no idea what 'Muslim characters' or the experience of such a life a 'Muslim experience' All that I saw and read were the vacant memories of a self absorbed man jaded with life and opportunities and meaninglessness of it all with a lot of time on his hands To say that such an emotion is a 'Muslim emotion' or such memories 'Muslim memories' to show that simply because the said protagonist was born in a Muslim family it made his life special or uniue in some way is pretty racist The fact that the protagonist is a Muslim does not mean that his life is different than any other middle upper middle class man in his 50s who has an unhappy marriage who is disconnected with his kids and shows no interest in them whose friends are all scattered around who thinks that simply because he was born in a bungalow where nobody had a job or so it seems that makes his current shop manager days a come down or a bore The novel also flatlines all undercurrents of ethnicity class politics rich poor snobbery that exist in any society as it must in a diverse religio socio political Indian community and which people choose to forget or not think about because it doesn't concern them or they don't think it important enough or they think they are better than most for eg who cleaned the protagonists' various houses? how is he paying his bills? Did he meet a single Hindu or another religious or class person other than Vivek? Or Aziz? Or Sharafat Mian? Or that gold rimmed dentist from the first page? The protagonist has a very superficial way of looking at things He has lived a rich entitled life and the melancholy and sense of loss that this man feels reuires a head exam because frankly I don't know what he was cribbing about What this man remembers about his life is something everyone can relate to But what and how much he chooses to remember about people is fluff and just because this book is fluff does not make it 'Muslim fluff'


  4. says:

    A novel set in Bhopal India mostly in the 1980s but with significant flashbacks to the 50s 60s and 70s Zamir Ahmad Khan is an excessively average guy middle aged middle class married to a wife he seems to have no particular feelings for father of two young children whom he spends little time with and not as close to his friends as he used to be He had a job selling antiue furniture but lost it due to his strategy of simply not showing up for months on end Zamir believes he has a mysterious disease that has caused all of these problems but multiple doctors haven't been able to diagnose anything and indeed he seems to have no symptoms beyond vague feelings of alienation and guilt Zamir is the missing man of the title but he's not missing in any literal sense; instead he's missing from his own life missing any idea of who he is or what he's meant to be doingThere's no real plot to the novel Zamir watches his life slowly disintegrate while reminiscing about people or places he once knew in short disintegrated vignettes that make up the majority of the page count This is all extremely slow and extremely unengaging; I really had to struggle even to finish the book My main problem wasn't just boredom though Zamir is a complete asshole of a protagonist Despite all his moping and claims of ill use he continually commits petty crimes against others deliberately running up debts at small shops with no intention to pay spreading negative rumors about people starting fights committing adultery And for all his whining and avowed guilt he never changes or does anything to correct these problems He's a realistic enough person I suppose but I absolutely do not want to spend two hundred pages with him The afterword describes this as subversive and sardonic but if that was the intention it absolutely did not come through in the writing Though I don't know if that's the fault of the original author or the translators Overall a draggy book with an irritating protagonist There are a million novels about middle class India that are so so much better than thisI read this as an ARC via NetGalley


  5. says:

    Early on in reading The Tale of the Missing Man we catch on that Zamir Ahmad Khan the protagonist of the story is an unreliable narrator His current life is perceived to be in shambles his wife Rahat has left for her parents' together with their two daughters he has somewhat unexplainable health ailments his business ventures have failed he shuts himself at home It is clear too that Zamir thinks over thinks ruminates about the same events in his life turning them over and over in his mind clinging stubbornly to his own suppositions The choice of the book title seems to encompass a few layers Zamir is lost in today's modern world unable to keep up and constantly looks to the past he is not present; Zamir was missing physically when he was needed whether at home or at work; Zamir feels alienated not only from his life but even to himself akin to a depersonalization or dissociative disorder There is a poignant scene where Zamir's father is fading health wise and keeps on asking Where is Zamir? although his sought for son was right in front of him One ends up alternately detesting Zamir for all the ways he let people around him down and being too naive or sympathizing with him for his losses and all that's gone wrong in his lifeMuch of the book centres around Bhopal in the 1970s and 1980s Some background historical signposts such as the Emergency and Union Carbide gas leak are mentioned without much background explanation However given that the original book was published in Hindi original name Dastane Lapata in 1995 the author likely felt his audience would know the context Thanks to Netgalley and Northwestern University Press for an ARC copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased reviewEdit to add On a re reading of the book I forgot to mention that the author Manzoor Ahtesham chooses to inject his authorial voice into the text at two different spots which was an interesting intentional choice He does explain that the missing man the lost Bhopali Zamir Ahmad Khan is akin to his alter ego Some of what happens to Zamir like his meeting with Anisa did in fact happen to the author I am somewhat less comfortable with how the author reveals that the real life 'Anisa' is now overweight despite going to a thousand fitness clubs This is unnecessarily unkind given she and others in his circle know exactly who he is referring to The author also discusses some political happenings around the time this novel is set but the reader still needs to have some background knowledge to appreciate his views I feel myself even torn between sympathizing with and detesting Zamir on this second read perhaps leaning towards sympathy He sabotages his own happiness and success seeming to self flagellate and self blame unconsciously His unceasing ruminations and reminiscing trap him in a sticky web of recrimination and sorrow No wonder this book is so highly acclaimed the inner world of a conflicted man is well depicted here and scenes from the protagonist's lost childhood and lost innocence especially bring a bittersweet feeling


  6. says:

    Character can mean either a person imagined up by an author but also the strengths and flaws that make up a person’s personality In The Tale of the Missing Man by Manzoor Ahtesham and translated by Jason Grunebaum and Ulrike Stark we have a meditation on both Zamir Ahmad Khan has lived in Bhopal India for the length of his sad sack life We meet him in his doctor’s office where he complains of symptoms of dissociation and malaise Then Zamir takes us back to his childhood to show how he became who and what he is At the end we’re left to think about the missed opportunities of Zamir’s life Could things have been different if he’d made different choices? Was it even possible to choose other paths? Read the rest of my review at A Bookish Type I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration


  7. says:

    I received an early review copy of this book from Net Galley I couldn’t finish this book I read about 15 and still hadn’t formed any connection to the story or characters There’s one main character who seems to be going through a midlife crisis of sorts and the part I read was an accounting of people he remembered from his childhood They all blended together for me and there was no real action He was not a likable character and I just couldn’t make myself commit to spending time with him when there are so many other books I want to read I fear I’m not giving this book a fair shot so it may get better as it goes along but I couldn’t stick it out


  8. says:

    25