Miseries, Illusions and Hope by Almas Akhtar is a collection of semi-autobiographical short stories that largely take place in Pakistan, which detail the lives of people with professions as disparate as doctors and personal drivers. The stories follow a loose narrative, beginning with a broader look at the problems facing Pakistan, like income inequality, from the perspectives of characters whose fortunes represent opposite ends of the spectrum. Later stories examine the many minute ways in which a family can either fall apart or remain connected when it encounters difficulties like divorce, unsuccessful or barren marriages, and having a family member move across the country for work. Written mostly in first person, Akhtar’s accounts feel immediately accessible and relatable, even to readers who have never experienced anything like what is described by the author.
At the risk of sounding insincere, this short story collection could not have appeared at a better time. Under the Trump administration, immigration has come under fire in the face of terrorist attacks and growing global fear. Powerful – and, more importantly, personal – accounts like the ones Akhtar includes here are an essential step toward restoring the humanity of people who are often reduced to simple labels like “alien” or “foreigner.” It is possible to forget that these very people are seeking many of the same things we are, like safety, financial security, and better lives for their children. We propose a simple challenge: regardless of your background, read these stories and see if you cannot find common ground with at least one of the characters included here; it is a challenge you will likely fail.
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