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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 volume documents the focus on the widow, regarded as the dark half of womankind in tradition, the structural counterpart of the sumangali or the auspicious married woman, and to provide an archive on widowhood. The archive comprises prescriptions, injunctions, laws and other accounts dating back to the 5th century BC from Sanskrit texts as well as extracts from official documents, pamphlets and essays in many languages, published in the 19th and 20th centuries. The material is arranged in three parts: documents, personal narratives and creative writing in an attempt to capture the complexities of the experience of widowhood, its diversity and range across India. With the emergence of the women's movement in the last quarter of the 20th century, the terms of analysis have changed and feminist inspired scholarship has raised new questions. In the anthology the widow comes across not just as a passive 'pitiable' object, oppressed, victimised and patronised but as an active resisting survivor - it is this last image that stays with the reader.
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