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#204 Never too old to create something stunning

By Cathryn Wellner / November 30, 2011

Cover of Jamal Ahmad’s prize-winning book

That book you wrote but haven’t yet published, the dance you choreographed that hasn’t been performed, the lyrics you carefully polished that have not yet been sung… Are they languishing in a drawer, reminders of youthful dreams you only re-visit when you are moving from one house to another?

Well, take them out, polish them up, and let them see the light of day. You may be the next Jamal Ahmad. The first-time novelist from Pakistan made the 2011 Longlist for the Man Asian Literary Prize with The Wandering Falcon, a collection of linked short stories he finished, then tucked in a drawer, in 1974.

In 2008 his younger brother urged him to submit it to a competition for Pakistani authors. Ahmad edited the stories and sent the manuscript to Faiza Sultan Khan, a Karachi columnist and editor. Khan showed it to an editor at Penguin, and two years later the work was published.

Ahmad will learn on January 10, 2012, whether he’ll be shortlisted for the prize, but the 78-year-old, retired civil servant is already a winner. He has just received the prestigious Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize for 2011.

The Wandering Falcon takes readers to the heart of the tribal areas where the borders of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan meet. One of the judges for the Shakti Bhatt prize, writer and journalist Jai Arjun Singh, described the book this way (Rediff News):

The Wandering Falcon is extraordinary for its intimate chronicling of the lives and struggles of the tribespeople who have long inhabited the borders of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran — people whose codes of honour and discipline have repeatedly been run over by a rapidly modernising world. Ahmad creates empathy without excessively romanticising an old way of life. His prose has a quiet, unshowy beauty and he shows a talent for pure storytelling that would be the envy of many far more experienced novelists.

The book is now on the top of my reading list, both because it sounds like an extraordinary and gripping read but also because it gives me hope for all the aging writers, dancers and songwriters whose voices have yet to be heard.

Update: On January 10, 2012, The Wandering Falcon made the shortlist. (Kyung-sook Shin won the award.) I read The Wandering Falcon and was entranced by it.

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