Wednesday, 23 December 2015

My Favourite Books of 2015 #8: 'The Book of Gold Leaves' by Mirza Waheed

We've been going strong in this countdown of my favourite books of 2015. For this list I'm not restricting myself to books that came out this year, although many of the ones featured on this list will probably have. Rather, I'm hoping that by the 31st I've been able to show you what has happened in my life, book-wise, the last twelve months!  In the last two days I've covered Dark Disciple and The Undergroud Girls of Kabul and I'm taking you into new territory today with a historical fiction book.

My #8 is The Book of Gold Leaves by Mirza Waheed!

The blurb of this book grabbed my attention right away along with its stunning cover. There was just something about it that made me want to read it and I lost myself in Waheed's amazing prose style. I eventually gave it 4 Universes because the plot develops rather slowly, but it was actually something I really enjoyed. I also love learning about new cultures and The Book of Gold Leaves really made me feel like I got a taste of Kashmir.

Pub. Date: 30/10/2014
Publisher: Penguin Books
Mirza Waheed's extraordinary new novel The Book of Gold Leaves is a heartbreaking love story set in war-torn Kashmir. In an ancient house in the city of Srinagar, Faiz paints exquisite Papier Mache pencil boxes for tourists. Evening is beginning to slip into night when he sets off for the shrine. There he finds the woman with the long black hair. Roohi is prostrate before her God. She begs for the boy of her dreams to come and take her away. Roohi wants a love story. An age-old tale of love, war, temptation, duty and choice, The Book of Gold Leaves is a heartbreaking tale of a what might have been, what could have been, if only. ' 
I loved it. The voice is lyrical, to match the beauty of Kashmir, and yet it is tinged with melancholy and grief, as is the story it tells' - Nadeem Aslam (on The Collaborator) 
'Waheed's prose burns with the fever of anger and despair; the scenes in the valley are exceptional, conveying, a hallucinatory living nightmare that has become an everyday reality for Kashmiris.' - Metro (on The Collaborator) 
Here are some of my thoughts from my review:
Waheed's novel is one that is infused with sentimentality, in a good way. Each page holds a beautiful description of flowers, smells, little streets, whispers exchanged by lovers in the dark, etc. As such, The Book of Gold Leaves really takes the reader on a visual and emotional journey. This is largely done through the perspective of Waheed's two main characters, Faiz and Roohi. Their love story is the heart of the novel and very much keeps it going the way a heart keeps a body going. It is at the centre of the narrative and at the same time is key to holding the novel together. The hope, love and despair that surrounds these two characters is developed beautifully by Waheed and his description of Kashmir and the surrounding areas only adds to making them and their story come to live.
There are a number of shifts within The Book of Gold Leaves which happen on different levels. On the one hand there is a constant shift between narrators between the different chapters, but on the other hand there is a continuing shift in atmosphere and tone. The decision to shift between narrators is always a tricky one since it can very easily go wrong. Not every character is equally interesting to readers and a narrative can easily run out of steam if the wrong character is narrating a crucial scene. In The Book of Gold Leaves, none of this happened. All scenes were narrated by the right people, making sure that each narrator added something unique and definitive to their narration. It's a similar story with the shifts in atmosphere which occur throughout the novel. As Kashmir becomes more dangerous there is a sense of nostalgia to the simpler, earlier parts of the novel. As the characters find themselves in danger, the mood of the novel becomes darker. It must be a conscious choice on the side of the author, but the reader will find himself only recognizing the shift later on which makes for a very interesting reading experience.
Check out the rest of my review of The Book of Gold Leaves tickles your fancy! Then run to your nearest bookstore to get it for yourself ;)

Is historical fiction a genre you enjoy? And have you read books set in India/Kashmir?

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