Book Review: The Scatter Here is Too Great

Scatter Here is Too Great - Book CoverPlot: The Scatter Here is Too Great is a compilation of narratives of an old communist poet; a wealthy middle-aged businessman, yearning for his estranged child; a young man with a dead-end job snatching cars from bank loan defaulters; a young girl suffering from heartbreak; an ambulance driver suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder; a student on a romantic rendezvous; a wayward young man whose bank installments have not been paid and a journalist – all living in Karachi and experiencing one catalyst: a bomb blast at a bus station!

Review: Literature in Pakistan seems to have moved on from its slump period, as recently we see a spate of new and young writers venturing to pen down their newer and untold stories. Bilal Tanweer, author of The Scatter Here is Too Great is a debuting writer, joining the new breed of Pakistani fiction writers who aim to do just that.

The main protagonist of this book is not the myriad of characters mentioned in the plot – but actually the city of Karachi – with its good & bad, ups and downs! As the author, Bilal Tanweer, explained in an interview: “Karachi is such a huge city that it is impossible to think of the complete picture. My narratives are as limited as they can possibly get. Each story is [Karachi] from the point of view of a particular character.”

In telling the ‘scatter’ of stories Tanweer has managed to keep the book completely non-political and away from the clichéd drama of terrorism many Pakistani authors love to delve upon. It is strictly a story about Karachi and how these people who live here ‘experienced’ the blast – and it does not stray to answer how or why the blast happened.

Independently, out of the nine short stories told by Tanweer, most varied between confusing or forgettable, and the two that somehow created a bit of connect, were the story of a heart-broken girl who tells her kid brother tales which hide her grief within and the wayward student out on a romantic escapade in his mother’s battered car.

As a read, the book is neither a novel nor as collection of short stories, as some of the stories are interlinked, while the others stand in isolation (at least to me!). This writing format may have worked for other authors, found myself confused about the on goings – and after a while was muddled up between the stories and the characters.

Reading the book, which is thankfully just near 200 pages, one does feel that Bilal Tanweer still has a long way to go as a writer, because he has not really be able to communicate his idea on paper cohesively to an average Joe like myself – even when I am a resident of Karachi and recognize a lot of nuances of my hometown that outsiders might not automatically understand.

Yes the real stories of Karachi need to be told … and hats off for trying as Karachi needs it … but my brain was left in a bit of a scatter after finishing the book, which was disappointing to say the least. Hope he listens because we are waiting for more.

PLOT: 3.5/5

CHARACTERS: 2.5/5

WRITING STYLE: 2/5

CLIMAX: 2.5/5

Note: A copy of this book was provided by Random House India in exchange for an honest review. Thank You

After thought:  The writer has been touted as the ‘up and coming voice of Pakistan’ and the book has been receiving raving reviews with fantastic social media buzz in respectable circles – and reading the book honestly makes me wonder if the critics are doing anyone any favors by avoiding honest feedback? Humble request – please don’t to this to the authors and their fans/readers.

About Samra Muslim

Comments

  1. Muhammad Karim Akhtar says:

    A marvellous piece of writing, Bilal Tanweer has done a very good job. The City is used as an Extended-Metaphor, as a character and as a Protagonist. He emphasizes that certain things are more beautiful and valuable after they are broken. The city is used as an extended metaphor that can be taken as home, space and a place where we dwell and its relationship with the environment. Explosions, violence and bomb blasts that are destroying the city and make the life intolerable. Home as a place, as a space and as an identity are strongly interconnected. The City, where we live, it becomes our identity and we cannot alienate from it. The motif of home that however distorted it is due to explosions, violence and bomb blasts, it is a home to live as we have an intimate relationship with it. It is distorted, yet people search for its beauty and get pleasure from it. Psychological revival is important for survival. The city as a character and as a protagonist sees the incidents happening around it yet it is providing the aesthetic pleasure to its dwellers. There is an optimistic approach of hope in the novel that the long dark shadows and the clouds of darkness over the city will be scattered away very soon if we struggle for the hope to survive, as after every darkness there is light, that will again enlighten the city.

  2. Fawzia Salman Khan says:

    I think that there are bits which are promising and some descriptions that are compelling but overall there is a lot of incoherence and loss of control over the plot – primarily because the writer seems to be trying too hard to turn every sentence into a literary moment. Unnecessary verbosity, too many images and metaphors (and many not very persuasive or fresh) and an inclination for overwhelming the reader with ‘deep’ and ‘wordy’ thinking causes the writer to lose sight of one essential aspect of what he sets out to do i.e. tell a story and tell it well. As a result, excited as I was about this book I found it to be too contrived and amateurish at various points. I do agree with the author that a coterie of people do take things to an extreme by praising to high heaven new writers finding their feet which is both disingenuous and ultimately self-defeating as writers can deceive themselves into thinking that they have arrived and any room for objective critical appraisal for literature is further reduced due to all the fawning ‘friend’ reviewers and socially connected well wishers. I think Bilal will write more and better with time – needs to be less self-conscious and should understand and embrace a wider and more diverse readership than the tightly-knit social circle. Also, I think a lot of blame here goes to whoever the editor of this book was – there are some many instances of repetition, over-long sections and sentences, awkward usage and generally the sheer absence of an editor. Perhaps the editor too was marketing the book rather than editing it?

  3. Maria Liaqat says:

    I agree with you a 100%. Its like my feelings have been translated in your words. I actually came online to search for reviews or plot plans of the book. I’ve already read it, but the fact that I could not connect so many pieces together had me very frustrated,

    I tried very hard to develop a mental picture of the connections of different stories in the book. Yes, the book did have me feel scattered by the end. But this was not the scatter a reader wants (just my opinion). It felt like it didn’t converge to any point. Or maybe that was the intent? Leaving all questions unanswered, all wounds still open, all stories incomplete?

    I was very excited about this book. The last book I read about Karachi was Kartography by Kamila Shamsie. I loved it. I was looking forward to another experience of that sort… which kind of failed.. BUT I’m sure BT has it in him. He’s taken the first step. Let’s see if it will be an up hill ride for him!

  4. Wasim Malik says:

    Your views about the lack of connection in the different narratives may be answered by the title of the book: “The Scatter here is Too Great” which perhaps the author meant to be taken literaly.. You see the scatter even finds a place in the form of the book itself..

  5. Khizra Munit says:

    Just read the review. Haven’t read the book so I can be objective and say that I had no issues with what the review says since its the critic’s opinion, preference in reading style and perspective. That is every critic’s right.
    I do however think that the after-thought is unfair.
    “The writer has been touted as the ‘up and coming voice of Pakistan’ and the book has been receiving raving reviews with fantastic social media buzz in respectable circles – and reading the book honestly makes me wonder if the critics are doing anyone any favors by avoiding honest feedback? Humble request – please don’t to this to the authors and their fans/readers.”
    You can’t generalize that all reviewers who liked the book are just sucking up to the writer or doing a disservice by being too positive about it. You throw question on the credibility of (often) expert reviews that may have written positive things. Just like you’re entitled to your opinion, they are theirs. You make the exercise of reviewing redundant when you say that everyone else is wrong in liking it if you didn’t like it.

    • Understand your point of view Khizra and as mentioned, its just an observation I have about certain segment of the society that loves praising each other – and not all book reviews/critics as a fraternity.

      Maybe I am being a bit harsh, but when waits for reviews to spend Rs.800/900 on a book and spends a few days (at least) reading that book and finds the reviews to be completely inaccurate – one does feel totally cheated. No offence meant.

  6. I have yet to read this book and I agree with your after thought. Some of the people I verbally talked to were not impressed yet on social media the book constantly received big praises which do not make sense.

  7. Is the book available for purchase anywhere in Karachi?

  8. Samra, heartened to see an honest review especially given the incestuous literati/social class of Pakistan. Kudos! I must confess that I have this book (and have longed to like it as think highly of BT) but have lost interest somewhere in the middle. Partly because spent a lot of time trying to find connections between the various narratives …

  9. First of all, thanks very much for linking to the DWL interview.

    Personally, I loved the book. After reading your review and listening to the comments we got at our Readers’ Club discussion, I’m wondering if this is a writer’s book rather than a reader’s book. I don’t think it caters to someone who’s just looking for an interesting story, the way most of us are apt to do. I saw the author’s stamp on every page of this volume; felt his pain for Karachi, marvelled at his powers of observation, understood his desire to capture the myriad faces of the city, empathised with his need to transcend the violence. I allowed the author to guide me through the ups and downs and twists and turns of the book, actively listened for his voice, read it from *his* perspective. If I’d removed Bilal from the equation, I don’t think I could’ve appreciated the book the same way. The most beautiful thing about Scatter, for me, was that it laid the writer’s own vulnerability, fear and grief out in the open for all to see. At the end of the day it was a book about his relationship with Karachi; the characters and situations he created were just ploys. At least, that’s how I read it.

    I should write a review of the book on my blog as well, come to think of it. Wish I could muster up the discipline.

    • Thanks for your comments Afia – and maybe that explains why a certain segment of the audience seems to be loving the book, but honestly the reason it took me so long to write this review is my self-doubt that maybe I was the only one in the world who just didn’t see its greatness, but in the end, still chose to be honest about what I felt/undetstood, instead of following the herd, but thats just not me!!

  10. very balanced review .thanks

Hey ... would love it if you share your thoughts here....

%d bloggers like this: