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The Nine Lives of Pakistan: Dispatches from a Divided Nation

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Intimate and complex, unravelling the many mysteries of state and religion, this formidable book offers an arresting account of life in a country that, often as not, seems to be at war with itself. The 73-year-old nation born of a bitter postcolonial divorce has heaved through humiliating defeats, careened from coup to coup and stubbornly endured despite relentless forces working to unweave it. To calculate the overall star rating and percentage breakdown by star, we don’t use a simple average.

These themes are also seen in fictional novels set in countries in this region such as works by Khaled Hosseini like The Kite Runner (2003) or A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007) which have the geopolitical history of Afghanistan as their backdrop. Instead, he presents Pakistan by looking at the lives (and deaths) of nine colorful, yet representative Pakistanis, including a “reluctant” Islamic fundamentalist, Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pashtun and Baloch tribal leaders, a human rights activist, a provincial governor, two officers of Pakistan’s notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and a Karachi cop who specialized in “encounter killings. With an international reputation for volatility, brutality and radical Islam, reports of Pakistan’s imminent collapse are not unusual. Steeped in fact this books draws on the atrocities and political standoffs that created a divided nation. Walsh is an Irish citizen, thoroughly European, and shares the disdain many Europeans express for US foreign policy, especially in the South Asian region.

This is the third and final in a series of book talks hosted by the South Asia Center and the American Pakistan Foundation with distinguished, award-winning authors.

However, it may also be worth viewing other texts in addition to The Nine Lives of Pakistan, such as Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography, as this gives a simpler explanation of the formation of Pakistan and the disputes that still exist. On assignment as the country careened between crises, Walsh traveled from the raucous port of Karachi to the salons of Lahore, and from Baluchistan to the mountains of Waziristan. Walsh spent nearly a decade living in and covering Pakistan, first for The Guardian, then for The Times. Walsh points out that the popular picture in the West is that Pakistan is a drab and boring place, filled with dour religious fanatics and closed minds.The solution to the riddle, which emerges out of the haze, says a lot about the turbulent, fractious country Walsh is trying to understand. But then Pakistan never behaves as one expects it to, as renowned journalist Declan Walsh knows well, having covered the country for over a decade.

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