My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Opening Sentence : So I’m re-reading the review I’ve written of Love At First Bite, Karachi’s latest cupcake bakery, not checking it for typos so much as wondering if my boredom, disdain, and self-loathing shine through a little too much when Kamran pops his head out of his door and yells ‘GET IN HERE NOW, AYESHA!’
I’ve never read a book by a Pakistani author. I’ve never read a book about Pakistan either. I hit both milestones on a flight back from Karachi which is, as the name implies, the city in which this story is based. And I have to say “Saba Imtiaz, you have failed this city” (Arrow reference, I’ve been binge watching that show lately.)
I wanted to write this review as soon as I was done reading it, but by the time I finished I had lost the urge, to the point that I have finally forced myself to finish this after a LOT of procrastination. This is Saba Imtiaz’s first novel. She herself is a journalist based in Karachi, which makes me wonder how much of this story is about her own life and how much of it is, I hope, badly imagined.
The novel started off with a lot of potential. I found it’s descriptions of Pakistan to be both hilarious and brutally honest and the protagonist Ayesha’s cynicism and despair a fresh change from the cookie cutter, one dimensionally virtuous and air headed female protagonists that have infiltrated Pakistani digest and magazine stories wearing their rosey colored glasses. It felt refreshing to see a realistic prespective from an imperfect female protagonist.
Karachiites have a love-hate relationship with their city, which Ayesha portrayed well in the story giving me hope that everyone out there doesn’t in fact suffer from self-inflicted patriotic blindness after all. ‘I hate living in Karachi, but it can be so heartbreakingly beautiful when it sets it’s mind to it.’
I have huge respect for people who work in the field of journalism and writing which is why I was very interested in Ayesha’s life as a journalist as presented by Saba Imtiaz who is also a journalist.
Imtiaz finds a comical way to relate the chaos that is Karachi. From it’s power outages,
The utility company shuts down the power the minute it starts raining, hoping to avoid fatalities caused by electrocution, so now one just has to worry about things like falling down the stairs in the dark and breaking one’s neck instead.,
to the mixed and varied rainbow of views on politics and politicians,
I work as a journalist, and I know today’s news is tomorrow’s fish and chip paper but as the grease saturates the newspaper, I cant help but feel that this is a message to me personally.
If there is ever anything you can count on at Pakistani cultural events, it’s that Zia- dead for longer than most people can remember- can still be blamed for everything
And the indifference that develops in people of Pakistan to everyday situations which would be considered traumatizing elsewhere like the fact that people at high end parties are discussing how entrepreneurial it is that the city has a mobile alert system for disasters and how normal it is to hide your phones when you go out so muggers won’t make off with it when they inevitably steal your handbag.
We’re in Pakistan, for the love of God, there’s always someone blowing themselves up.”
There are some references to Karachi-life peppered throughout the book that anyone who has lived there would appreciate like Imran Khan’s likability, how girl’s are willing to slit their wrists in devotion based off of the events of the latest ‘Humsafar’ episode, how put-together good looking men are most likely gay, judging girls for going to Seaview and how lavish the lives of politicians and their families are.
That unfortunately is where the likability of this book comes to an end. I feel as lazy about writing this review as the writer probably got about trying to develop the story and lead it into a worthwhile ending. My rating for this book just kept plummeting as the story progressed.
After putting such an emphasis on the girl’s journey as a journalist and highlighting her ambitions to leave Karachi and pursue her career elsewhere, the story just abruptly decides to end without anything significant happening. I prayed that this wouldn’t fall into the tiring category of stories where the girl’s life just seems to stop and everything else ceases to matter as long as there is a guy involved, but sadly that is exactly what happened. Without any development or reason the climax of the story came about in an airport (painful cliche) where her friend, an undeveloped highly shallow character with whom there was never any pretense of a relationship nor any reason for an attraction, tells her that he has feelings for her. So what? She doesn’t have a job, still has no future, her career is almost non existent even more so than it was when the story began and she is still a raging alcoholic. How is this supposed to constitute a complete novel?
Speaking of alcohol, there was a LOT of it in this book. Almost as if the writer had something to prove. The sad thing is that her alcoholic habits weren’t supposed to be part of her story, readers were actually supposed to accept it as the norm. But she was just trying too hard. Name dropping different types and playing it off as the most casual thing in a country where it is not.
What really disappoints me is that this book could have had a lot to offer. A story about an ambitious female journalist in a country with the highest death-rate among journalists and political protests and unrest around every corner could have made for an exciting thriller instead of a seemingly blog-like book about the drinking and casual sex of a girl who failed her career but walked off happily hand in hand with a guy who claimed to love her without any prelude. I completely failed to see what the writer was trying to say and what this whole story was leading up to besides completely wasting people’s time.
1. Where am I ever going to find a guy in the wasteland that is Karachi where it’s easier to hire an assassin than meet an attractive, intelligent, normal single man? (pg.15)
2. I hate living in Karachi but it can be so heartbreakingly beautiful when it sets it’s mind to it. (pg.53)