This review first appeared at Liberty Books.
Sheikh Ahmed Uzair Sufi is one of the most feared men in Pakistan, a top Jihadi militant, who believes in nothing save his own limitless scope for violence. But no one suspected this future back in 1994, when he was simple old Ausi and leaves school with his cricket mad best friend Eddy to start a new life. While Eddy goes to college in America, Ausi’s life takes dangerous and unexpected turns. The two friends stay in touch even as they pursue vastly different lives, their shared passion for cricket and nostalgia for their school days binding them together. Even as Ausi treads down a darker path, what will happen to their friendship? Omar Shahid Hamid, bestselling author of The Prisoner, takes us on another thrilling, sinister ride, stretching from Karachi to Kashmir to Afghanistan, in The Spinner’s Tale.
There are accounts, treatise and memoirs that deal with reality, going deep into the psyche and culture of the people supplemented with facts and figures to prove a point. Then comes a fiction, essentially doing the same but hitting where it matters the most … the reader’s’ heart. The Spinner’s Tale, the second novel from policeman-turned-author Omar Shahid Hamid, grabs and shakes your soul to the core.
Following two characters, Omar Abbasi who is a police officer, and Shaikh Uzair, an educated jihadi mastermind, the author explores the world of modern jihadis that come from prestigious institutions and walk the path of violence and gore. As if by intuition, Omar Shahid Hamid has brought forth a dangerous trend in the form of fiction when Pakistani society recently experienced similar occurrences in its reality.
Following the trend set in his first novel, The Prisoner, Omar Shahid Hamid not only explores crime from the perspective of a police officer but also continues the story in parallel timelines. The current timeline is one where Omar Abbasi is on a wild hunt, and the past timeline is explored through letters written between two old friends and cricket fanatics, Uzair Ahmed Sufi alias Ausi and Adnan Shah alias Eddy. While it was often confusing to follow story in The Prisoner due to sudden changes between timelines, the legible dates and year made it easier to follow the story in the new novel.
The letters are the driving force behind the story. Written between two best friends they form a link as everyone takes a different path once school ends. Uzair joins medical school, becomes active in party politics, gets in trouble, drops out, runs away, goes abroad and eventually joins the Kashmir rebellion that makes him the known and dreaded Shaikh Uzair. He’s in love with his childhood best friend Sana Safdar, daughter of a bureaucrat, who goes to Boston for higher studies and does some soul-searching once life takes several twists. She’s also central to some of the letters written by Adnan Shah, their childhood best friend who also goes to US for higher education, as he maintains contact with Uzair. Talking about cricket and highlighting the deadly effectiveness of spin bowlers such as Mushtaq Ahmed, Saqlain Mushtaq and even Shane Warne, the letters not only follow Pakistan’s cricket exploits of the 90s but also its development on a political and personal level. If you want to know how important this communication was between the two best friends, Adnan manages to get one letter delivered to Uzair in Indian prison after Cricket World Cup 1999!
The author once again brings forth explicit details of life. People make choices that lead to a certain direction, a certain future. It can be a woman baring herself for sexual pleasures that comes back to haunt her, a jihadi murdering a pregnant journalist to prove a point and then becomes a most wanted man, a wannabe banker dreaming to make it big on Wall Street by cutting ties from his past… what they go through and experience is not easy and every action has a consequence.
The novel, while it manages to hit you in the face with realities that go behind the scenes, suffers from some of the shortcomings similar to the first novel. There is a lot more telling than showing, with long accounts gleaned through letters. While the details are engaging, the letters from both Adnan and Uzair feel like they are written by the same person. Besides that there is very little in the novel which would go unappreciated. The harrowing tale of Uzair Ahmed Sufi, who becomes the dreaded Shaikh Uzair raises heckles and sends goosebumps right through the reader’s body. The Spinner’s Tale is a must read to know the psyche of modern jihadi and his motivations.Tags: Book review, Crime novel, Jihadi mindset, Omar Shahid Hamid, Pakistani fiction, The Spinner's Tale