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» » Salt and Saffron

Salt and Saffron by Kamila Shamsie

Salt and Saffron
Salt and Saffron
Kamila Shamsie
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1692 kb
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Bloomsbury USA; First Edition edition (September 16, 2000)
248 pages
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Literature & Fiction

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A beautiful novel detailing the life and loves of a Pakistani girl living in the U.S.

Aliya may not have inherited her family's patrician looks, but she is as much a prey to the legends of her family that stretch back to the days of Timur Lang. Aristocratic and eccentric-the clan has plenty of stories to tell, and secrets to hide. Like salt and saffron, which both flavor food but in slightly different ways, it is the small, subtle differences that cause the most trouble in Aliya's family. The family problems and scandals caused by these minute differences echo the history of the sub-continent and the story of Partition.

A superb storyteller, Kamila Shamsie writes with warmth and gusto. Through the many anecdotes about Pakistani family life, she hints at the larger tale of a divided nation. Spanning the subcontinent from the Muslim invasions to the Partition, this is a magical novel about the shapes stories can take- turning into myths, appearing in history books and entering into our lives.

Kamila Shamsie is a superb storyteller and a gifted writer. After reading her novel "Kartography," I wanted to read everything else she had written, and so came upon "Salt and Saffron." Ms. Shamsie does not disappoint in this extraordinary book. She explores here the complexities of family relationships - the generational legends that approach mythology, feuds that last for one hundred years, births, deaths, loves, secrets and scandals. All these dramas are universal, but the author has focused her tale on the Dard-e-Dils, an aristocratic nawab family, descended from royalty as far back as the Mughal dynasty. This huge feudal clan made their home, before Partition in 1947, in Dard-e-Dil, India. Now most are Pakistani, and have been incommunicado with their former loved ones, on the other side of the border, since the declaration of Pakistani statehood. The clash between cultures, Pakistani and Anglo (British and American), and the prohibition of loving below ones class are also tackled here.

Aliya, a Dard-e-Dil granddaughter, is our narrator and tour guide through the intricacies of the family tree, lore and history, providing the readers with some new chapters of her own. Aliya's voice is a strong and intelligent one, however, there are times when her humor - the play on words and American English slang - are just too cutesie, and become annoying. When the novel begins, Aliya is returning to her beloved home in Karachi after 4 years at an American university. She stops over to visit a cousin, Samia, in London and meets an American Pakistani youth, Cal/Khaleel, on the plane. The two have much in common, are attracted to each other and become even more so when he seeks her out at her cousin's apartment. While having coffee, Aliyah discovers that Cal's parents, American immigrants, are from the lower classes. Their Karachi neighborhood was in Liaquatabad, a poor area of the city, making Cal a most unsuitable choice for a boyfriend or husband. Samia sums it all up quite nicely when she comments,"The poor live in Liaquatabad. The Poor, the lower-classes, the not-us. How else do you want me to put this? There's no one we know who would have exchanged Karachi phone numbers with him."

Aliyah is linked as a "not quite twin," with her aunt, the mysterious Mariam Apa, who elopes with the cook, another very unsuitable match. The legend of the "not quite twins," and the curse associated with it, is explained in the novel, and it is a clever device used to link generations. The segments devoted to Mariam and Masood, the cook, and their culinary creations are literally scrumptious. "Curly shaped jalaibees, hot and gooey, that trickled sweet syrup down your chin when you bit into them; diced potatoes drowned in yogurt, sprinkled in spices; triangles of fried samosas, the smaller ones filled with mince-meat, the larger ones filled with potatoes and green chilies; shami kebabs with sweet-sour imli sauce; spinach leaves fried in chick-pea batter; nihari with large gobs of marrow floating in the thick gravy, and meat so tender it dissolved instantly in your mouth; lassai that quenched a day-long thirst as nothing else did and left us wondering why we ever drank Coke....". There are further descriptions of spiced lamb, fragrant biryanis, sweetmeats and desserts that will make the mouth water.

"Salt and Saffron" is filled with enough enchanting tales to keep Shaharazad happy, but some of the "real life" story just doesn't ring true. In many cases extreme measures are taken by individuals to fulfill their lives and desires, and these acts have dire consequences as a result of breaking family taboos - taboos which often seem based on whim.

Ms. Shamsie's prose is elegant, lyrical and witty. Her dialogue is humorous, at times pensive and poignant, and at others fast and furious. "Salt and Saffron" is a substantial novel to be savored to the last word.

  • Perius
good book but did not wow me. I prefer her later work.
  • Yozshunris
I was happy to purchase this book at affordable price. I complemented the reading books for a Women's studies class I was taking in college.
  • uspeh
If ever a book existed that made the readers' connect with their innermost and basic desires, then Salt and Saffron is it. Shamsie has the extraordinary knack that recognizes an individual's need for comfort through the presence of family, love, relationships, and food. The novel details the trials and conflicts of Aliya, a Pakistani girl born in the sub continental upper crust, as she moves along a journey of self discovery by questioning the very beliefs that she was brought up with.

When Mariam Apa, Aliya's distant older cousin, arrives at the family's doorstep, she brings with her change that will leave the Dard-E-Dil foundations shaking for a long time. Through Mariam, Shamsie explores the tastes, timbres, and textures of silence. Like salt, it is sprinkled gently through the novel without being overly intimidating.

Aliya's stories are fragrant with the aromas that waft in and out of every Pakistani home and get woven inextricably into the tapestry of every day living. Like Mariam, she falls in love with someone outside of her social barrier and aims to resolve her dilemma by unfurling the mystery behind her cousins life.

With most of the narrative set in pre independence India, Shamise writes with a deep affection of the stories that tell of the heartbreak of a divided nation.
  • Gavinranadar
Great book. Absolutely love the story. Even though is not a book every Pakistani girl can relate too. The story is great and interesting
  • Oghmaghma
Didn't care for it after just reading about 10 pages
  • Yar
Very clever and surprisingly insightful look at upper Muslim Indians and Pakistanis and the world of one family.

Very evocative about the Partition
It is clear why she was in the Orange 21 list after she published this book... before she was 30! Amazing read.