‘The Bargain from the Bazaar’: A Pakistani family’s struggle
Haroon Ullah’s new book, “The Bargain from the Bazaar,” shows the extraordinary hardships and moments of happiness experienced by a contemporary Pakistani middle-class family. Ullah appears Tuesday, March 11, at Town Hall Seattle.
Special to The Seattle Times
The author of “The Bargain from the Bazaar” will appear at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 11, at Town Hall Seattle, 1119 Eighth Ave., Seattle. Tickets are available through townhallseattle.org and at the door starting at 6:30 p.m.
‘The Bargain from the Bazaar’
by Haroon Ullah
Public Affairs, 240 pp., $25.99
Nuclear-armed Pakistan, overrun by crime, corruption, poverty and religious extremism, has been written off as a ruined state. It is politically unstable, rife with sectarian violence, and enmeshed in a never-ending conflict with India. However, in a nonfiction work titled “The Bargain from the Bazaar,” author Haroon K. Ullah, a Pakistani-American diplomat and field researcher, gives us an alternative perspective on the country. Ullah, who grew up in Washington state but later spent a number of years in Pakistan, assumes the viewpoint of ordinary citizens, who go through extraordinary hardship to survive, but who still manage to find moments of happiness.
Ullah has chosen to offer us insight into the Pakistani society with a portrayal of challenges encountered by the Rezas, a middle-class family in Lahore. Awais Reza, a shopkeeper in the Anarkali Bazaar, is a man with a broad political outlook. His wife, Shez, industrious and self-sacrificing, works as a nurse in a local hospital and raises their three sons. The oldest, Salman, who fights drug addiction, is soon expelled from the military and joins his father in managing the shop. Daniyal, the middle son, who has been recruited by religious fundamentalists to carry out acts of terror, severs all connections with his family. The youngest son, Kamran, studies law in college. An idealist, he hopes to be able to change the future of the country by working from within. His goals are shared by Rania, a privileged classmate with whom he has a secret courtship.
In the aftermath of the bombing of a Sufi shrine, the police search for Daniyal, whom they suspect of being involved in the case. Negative consequences for the entire family ensue. Awais is arrested, even though he doesn’t know the whereabouts of his son. Shez, although frantic with grief and guilt, makes a superhuman effort to free Awais from jail, to no avail. Kamran is in danger of losing his scholarship money and Rania’s mother seeks another suitor for her. With the threat of terrorism looming, people shop less, thereby reducing the revenue earned from the shop. The family now faces a grim future.
Ullah uses the plot narrative to symbolize the options (or the lack thereof) available to young Pakistanis, and it is an effective method. In general, he draws the male characters fully, but leaves Shez somewhat sketchy. She first appears in the book as a vibrant and strong-willed 15-year-old. However, soon after her marriage to Awais, she recedes into the background. This might be an unconscious omission on Ullah’s part. Or it might be that social norms prevented him from conducting in-depth interviews with a woman. In either case, it detracts from the narrative.
Ultimately, the author seems to be saying that the adversity the Reza family experiences without succumbing is a testament to human resiliency. Perhaps therein lies the country’s best hope.
Seattle author Bharti Kirchner’s latest novel is “Tulip Season: A Mitra Basu Mystery.”