★★★★ Our Karwan by Almas Akhtar takes readers on a journey through changing seasons and pivotal moments in one Pakistani family’s life, told from the point of view of the youngest daughter, Farah. Farah lives with her three older siblings and mother, Salima, in a beachside flat in Karachi. Farah’s family moves to Karachi from Lahore after her parents divorce, because her father—a horrible man who once gave up drinking so that he could be with Farah’s mother, but started up again as soon as the couple was married—would make their lives miserable if they continued to live in the same city. Yet rather than admit defeat, Salima builds a new life for her children in Karachi, opening up a men’s clothing shop that quickly becomes one of the most prominent businesses of its kind in the area. Salima also gets a second shot at love in the form of “Colonel S,” a handsome relative of one of her lifelong friends, who truly seems like an honorable gentleman. But when bad rumors start to circulate, threatening Salima’s reputation and livelihood, Farah’s family will be challenged in ways they never thought possible.
Atmospheric and immersive, Akhtar’s book offers a confidently intimate characterization of family under pressure. Salima is a remarkable role model—a woman who refers to bend to anyone else’s will, regardless of how her society views divorcées. Towards the end of the ‘70s, Pakistani policy began to swing back toward the conservative side, placing harsher strictures on women while allowing men to commit the same acts without criticism. When Salima makes waves in her community by falling for a military official, she triggers a reactionary backlash that seeks to damage her reputation. Akhtar paints a complex portrait of a mother in a tight spot, illustrating that while Salima might not necessarily have many options at her disposal, she can still take charge of her own destiny and navigate her family’s future toward brighter waters.