Book Review: The Last Days of Café Leila

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, November 26th, 2017

“Exile is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted.” — Edward Said

Whether pushed by political turmoil, war, conflict or repression, or driven by economic compulsions, an exilic position invariably poses a multitude of challenges. The migrant — or the exile — negotiates a strange territory, substitutes the settled routine with new rhythms and rituals, confronts different realities, values and perspectives. And all the while the ‘homeland’ holds a deep affinity, almost a primordial attraction. Although with the passage of time the exile comes to terms with the new space, the new life, perhaps a pining and a ‘crippling sorrow of estrangement’, as articulated by Said, remains buried deep within the heart.

In her debut novel The Last Days of Café Leila, Persian-American author Donia Bijan tells an engaging story encompassing three generations of a family, woven around their life’s trials and tribulations in shifting spaces, times and cultures. The curtain opens in Tehran 2014, on Behzod — or Zod — an aging father who is waiting for the letter from his daughter Noor, now a woman of 40, residing in the United States since her teens, that will bring him the longed-for news of her homecoming.

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Pakistan: A Society in Flux

Published in Dawn, Karachi, Pakistan on 13 June 2001

Teenage solid waste managers pedaling bikes, ferrying collected stuff in satchels. Neatly dressed executives driving air-conditioned Honda Civic. Green-turbaned, bearded, lanky young men, walking towards seminaries. Common womenfolk attired in shalwar qameez and duppata on their way to market, offices, educational institutions. Small traders talking on mobiles, steering Suzuki pick-ups. Young boys chatting at cyber cafes. Girls in designer’s jeans strolling in select areas. Women with hijab congregating at home or in five star hotels for dars. These are but few outer manifestations of lifestyles of contemporary Pakistani society, to be exact, contemporary urban Pakistani society.

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