Book Review: The Blind Man’s Garden

Click photo for origin and interview

Click photo for origin and interview

Title: The Blind Man’s Garden

Author: Nadeem Aslam

Genre: Literary fiction

Length: 367 pages

Library: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh–Downtown & Business

Challenge: 2013 Middle East Reading Challenge

Summary: A pair of seriously star-crossed lovers try to find their way back to each other despite the many social and political obstacles that part them in their corner of Pakistan.


Although it’s difficult to look past the ways in which the terrorist attacks of 9/11 changed our own lives forever, it’s important to remember that Pakistan and Afghanistan were also thrown into a hot mess of chaos. By no means was there universal Muslim agreement that attacking America was the right thing to do, and the lives of many ordinary people were plunged into chaos by the rapidly escalating civil strife in the Middle East. Aslam’s novel is the story of ordinary people thrown into extraordinary circumstances, and their struggle to hold on to each other in the face of war.

Mikal, our hero, loves Naheed with all his heart. Naheed loves him too, but has been married off to Mikal’s cousin, Jeo. This awkward love triangle shatters when Mikal and Jeo sneak off to Afghanistan, to provide medical treatment to the soldiers fighting there. Unbeknownst to them, a group of radical Muslims–angry at Jeo’s father, Rohan, for his supposed sins–make arrangements to have the men captured and sold into a terrorist cell, where, ostensibly, they will be killed in battle. Unfortunately for Jeo, the plan succeeds all too well in his case.

The bulk of the novel describes Mikal’s attempts to return home to Naheed. The scale of the challenges he faces is incredible: torture–both by his own people and the American troops occupying the country–captivity, hunger, and the mistrust of nearly everyone he meets (the prevailing logic goes, if you’re not family, you could be an enemy). Meanwhile, back home, Naheed faces challenges of her own. Guilt over Jeo’s death, and longing for Mikal, lead her to stubbornly resist the advances of men who want to marry her. As the social climate of her neighborhood grows more and more radical, her choices and safety dwindle away to almost nothing, and there’s nothing she can do about it except wait for Mikal.

Rohan, for his part, remains one of the last voices of reason in his neighborhood, and is brutally punished for it. However, he refuses to remain silent, even though his continued courageous acts lead to horrible consequences for everyone he holds dear. As the pages go by, the violence and corruption get worse and worse, and yet Rohan stubbornly clings to his vision of Islam, refusing to let the radicals’ version carry the day. Even though he pays the highest prices a man can endure without actually dying, his faith in a merciful, compassionate Allah remains unshaken. It’s breathtaking and horrifying all at once.

This is a difficult novel to read for the sheer volume of pain and suffering Aslam puts his characters through, and yet it is never unbelievable or over the top. The horrible reality that this is actually how some people live in the world keeps the pages turning: you root for Mikal, Rohan, and Naheed because what’s happening to them is so ridiculously unfair. You hope for miracles, and you don’t get them, and yet you still hope, because honestly, there has to be some justice in this world, hasn’t there? In the end, some will live and some will die, because “fair” is where you go to get cotton candy, nothing more. And yet, the journey was worth making, because as long as a person’s life has one witness, it wasn’t wasted…at least, one hopes.

Recommended for: Fans of literary fiction, people interested in current events, readers who enjoy suspense novels, anyone who has lived through war and knows its costs.


2 Responses to “Book Review: The Blind Man’s Garden”

  1. 1 Payal

    Hiii…I am an avid book reader and a fellow blogger. It was interesting to read about your views on this book. I too have read this book and if you are interested in reading my review, you can visit my blog :

    • Thanks for sharing your link! It’s always nice to run into someone who has read the same book and written about it. Cheers!

      Leigh Anne

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