At the heart of Ali Sethi's debut novel is a tale of transgressive love in which the protagonist tries to help his cousin to win over the boy of her fantasies. On this slender peg Sethi hangs a series of portraits of people's lives over the years, centring on
The novel opens with the young Zaki Shirazi returning from a
We learn of the journeys of the
Details and anecdotes abound throughout, in step with a succession of effective set pieces. Sethi’s prose is full of quick, glancing observations even though the occasional choppiness of style becomes, after a while, more of an affectation than anything else.
It becomes clear soon enough that The Wish Maker is a nostalgist’s map of
The Wish Maker doesn’t restrict itself to portraying an upper middle class lifestyle; the cast of characters is carefully chosen to touch upon various shades, from the feudalism of the provinces to the upward striving of the middle class to the decadence and cynicism of the affluent. This all-encompassing approach may seem like a strength because of the ambitious, almost Tolstoyan,
Another quality that drains the novel of vitality is that Zaki, as a protagonist, is more acted upon than willing to act. Indeed, we have little sense of him as an independent agent, as his growing years are almost wholly defined by his relationships. Since many sections of the novel are told from his first-person point of view, the inevitable outcome of this submissiveness is a degree of narrative languor. Samar Api, the
Like the improvised time capsule that Zaki and his schoolmate bury in his backyard, The Wish Maker is chock-full of bits and pieces that are redolent of life in