Soul at Peace

By Nadya Chishty-Mujahid | May 2020

Title      : Prodigal
Author   : Irshad AbdulKadir
Pages     : 303pp
ISBN      : 9789389109054

Although he started publishing novels relatively late in life, one should be grateful that Irshad AbdulKadir finally decided to do so. His talent has developed and matured over the course of his three books: Clifton Bridge, The Deriabad Chronicles, and the latest, Prodigal. The latter is the story of an upper-class Pakistani male, Akbar Ali (the son of a Sindh High Court Chief Justice and a mother of British origin) whose deeply devout Islamic faith pervades much of the action of the book.

Although a part of it is set in FATA, and part in Cambridge UK, the diversity of location does not detract from the fact that AbdulKadir creates a central character whose thematic as well as structural integrity is nothing short of remarkable. Although the story follows a simple bildungsroman pattern whereby Akbar’s adventures are recounted in a picaresque form, this serves the material well in that one is not distracted by convoluted plot developments. Akbar dominates the novel from the beginning to the end, and does a remarkably fine job of developing his spirituality first at a Karachi madrasah, and later in the tribal areas of the north of the country. Eventually, Akbar attends Cambridge (the lure of which he had assiduously resisted at the beginning of the book) in order to work on an Islamic studies dissertation.

Virile, privileged, intelligent, good-looking, and coming from not simply an elite family but an emotionally well-adjusted one, Akbar quite literally has it all. At least that is what one believes until the reader realizes that the book is about Akbar’s inner quest to integrate his practice and belief in Islam with every aspect of how he conducts his life. In spite of his father’s objections, a beloved uncle encourages him to pursue his religious passions and we are given a well-constructed glimpse into madrasah life as Akbar perceives it. Rejecting Cambridge offers at that point, he then moves to the northern areas right at the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan where he meets and studies under the wise and enlightened Jalal Baba. Spiritually strong, and possessing an interesting worldly optimism, Jalal Baba takes Akbar under his wings and this portion of the novel portrays some useful insights into the challenges of tribal life. This is especially evident when Akbar falls in love with Asmina, an orphan girl of the Afridi clan whom Jalal had raised as his own.

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