(K. Brent Tomer),
The Golden Legend. By Nadeem Aslam. Knopf; 319 pages; $27.95. Faber & Faber; £16.99.
THERE are two versions of how Pakistan got its name, both true. The original is the more prosaic. Choudhary Rahmat Ali, a Punjabi Muslim nationalist, invented it from the putative state’s component parts: the first letters of Punjab, Afghan province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), Kashmir, Sindh and the final letters of Balochistan. The second, more beloved version, is that it is the product of two words in Urdu and Persian: stan and pak, which together mean “land of the pure”.
Pakistan has been trying to live up to the latter version from its birth. At partition it was cleansed of most Sikhs and Hindus. Starting in the 1950s, its increasingly strident constitutions swept away the secularism imagined by the nation’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. In the 1980s blasphemy laws were dusted off and spruced up. They are now shiny with overuse. The most recent campaign of decontamination comes from the jihadists who would purge Pakistan of its Shias and Sufis. In a remarkable new novel Nadeem Aslam pours cold…Continue reading