Maps For Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam might remind you of Brick Lane by Monica Ali. Both novels take place in immigrant enclaves in England and feature characters tested by loves that defy their beliefs. Each book vividly portrays characters living their lives with old world values that are out of context in the contemporary world. What sets Maps For Lost Lovers apart is the inclusion of a Lord of the Flies like violent desperation and lack of optimism.
Aslam’s novel takes place in a Pakistani immigrant community. The isolation of the community within the City is compounded by the Pakistanis determination to keep their neighborhood a solid slice of their homeland. This is not a happy place, not a place where change is tolerated. Within this quarter of the city judgment and gossip rule the day. You are weighed against your neighbors. Are you religious enough? Are following the traditions correctly and with enough zeal? Are you too worldly? Are your children all they should be?
The disappearance of lovers Jugnu and Chanda has happened before Maps For Lost Lovers begins. It is this event however that drives the novel. The police have arrested Chanda’s brothers. They believe that the brothers killed the couple to avenge the shame brought on their family by Jugnu and Chandra living together. They broke Islamic and law and were given the ultimate punishment for their sins.
As Jugnu’s well meaning brother Shamas, his wife Kaukab and the community await the killers’ trial the dissection of their lives, the desire for more freedoms by their children and the advancement of western culture into their every day existence dominates thoughts and conversation.
For Kaukab these are particularly trying times. She is the poster child the book for the restrictions put on women in the name of religion. She is a uniquely sympathetic character in this novel. Middle-aged, she has spent her life a devout Muslim, accepted her arranged marriage and raised her children according to religious canons and to the best of her ability. Those children are now chaffing against their Mother and the rules she represents. Kaukab strongly disapproved of Jugnu and the three times married Chanda’s behavior but she is tremendously distressed that the lovers were killed and that the bodies of the lovers lay undiscovered for days.
Author Nadeem Aslam’s use of the “honor killing” of Jugnu and Chanda in order to dissect the minds and culture of a Pakistani community works beautifully in terms of straightforward storytelling. The lovers, their family (including a painful study of Chanda’s parents) and the killers are all represented in this well written, discussion worthy novel. Aslam is able to resist creating easy villains but maybe not so able to always avoid preaching. Reading Maps For Lost Lovers gives you the chance to enjoy lush writing and to enter a powerfully examined world.