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In 1970s Karachi, where violence and political and social uncertainty are on the rise, a talented painter, Tahira, tries to hold her life together as it shatters around her. Her marriage is quickly revealed to be a trap from which there appears no escape. Accustomed to the company of her brother Waseem and friends, Andaleep and Safdar, who are activists, writers and thinkers, Tahira struggles to adapt to her new world of stifling conformity and to fight for her identity as a woman and an artist.
Tragedy strikes when her brother and friends are caught up in the cynically repressive regime. Faced with loss and injustice, she embarks upon a series of paintings entitled ‘The Empty Room’, filling the blank canvases with vivid colour and light.
Elegant, poetic, and powerful, The Empty Room is an important addition to contemporary Pakistani literature, a moving portrait of life in Karachi at a pivotal moment in the nation’s history, and a powerful meditation on art and the dilemmas faced by women who must find their own creative path in hostile conditions.
"‘Regret is only one kind of torment in a world generous with pain’, writes Sadia Abbas. In her debut novel, regret and pain appear in light, luminous hues as the story of a new nation, struggling to retain its democratic resolve, is enmeshed with the story of a rocky marriage. The courage, wit and capacity for love displayed by the characters are sure to linger long after the last chapter has been read."
— Annie Zaidi, author of Gulab and Love Stories #1-14
"A gripping and wonderfully observed account of domestic life and its many perils in Pakistan's early decades. The portrait of a marriage set in the minefield of an extended family, this novel offers us an extraordinarily nuanced view of a woman's life."
— Faisal Devji, author of The Impossible Indian: Gandhi and The Temptation of Violence
"The personal and the political come together in this tale of a nation and a young, newly-married woman, as they push against horizons, stretch boundaries and make painful self-discoveries."
— Rakhshanda Jalil, writer and translator
Sadia Abbas grew up in Pakistan and Singapore. She received her PhD in English literature from Brown University, and she teaches in the English Department at Rutgers University-Newark. Sadia is Adjunct Professor at the Stavros Niarchos Center for Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser University. She loves long walks, the Mediterranean and, indiscriminately, all sorts of films.
This magnificent, sprawling novel, a classic of Hindi literature, spans almost an entire century in the lives of several families and generations of Kashmiri Hindus and Muslims. As it opens, Lalli, in her seventh month of pregnancy, is preparing to leave for her married home for the traditional curd ceremony. The constellation of planets is right and the moment is auspicious; it must not be lost. But even as her family prepares for her departure, there is fear in their hearts: storm clouds darken the sky and there is news of political disturbances in the city. Between them, the midwife, Khurshid, and Rehman, the tongawalla, ensure that Lalli is safely brought to her destination, and even that the pots of curd are undisturbed.
As the story unfolds, the ties between Kashmir’s close-knit communities slowly begin to unravel. The politics of religion, and religious identity, take centre stage and begin to spread their insidious poison in people’s lives. At the end of the novel Lalli, now a grandmother, sees a world in which the much-loved Kashmiriyat, a shared and intermeshed heritage, seems little more than a distant memory. A passionate cry for a lost legacy, Chandrakanta’s magnum opus, winner of both the prestigious Vyas Samman and the Mahatma Gandhi Sahitya Samman, is a must-read for those interested in the story and history of Kashmir.
CHANDRAKANTA is one of India’s foremost Hindi writers, with over 50 books to her credit. Her work has been translated into many languages. The English translation of her novel, Ailan Gali Zinda Hai (A Street in Srinagar) was published by Zubaan and shortlisted for the DSC award for literature in 2011. Among Chandrakanta’s many other awards are the prestigious Vyas Samman (2005) and the Mahatama Gandhi Sahitya Samman (2011) as well as the Subramanya Bharathi award.
RANJANA KAUL teaches literature at the University of Delhi and translates from Hindi to English when she can find the time.
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