BOOK REVIEW / In brief: Season of the Rainbirds - Nadeem Aslam: Deutsch, pounds 12.99

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The Independent Culture
A bag of mail, lost in a train crash 19 years previously and then redisovered, disturbs the life of a small town in Pakistan. This tender stroll through the landscape of the author's childhood is full of fondly rendered detail: women spreading turpentine in puddles; a headmaster who closes the door for summer holidays on the day the first pupil passes out from the heat; a radio serial avidly listened to in a barber's shop. More than a paean to pastoral customs, though, this is a political novel about corruption: 'During the last elections,' the narrator calmly tells us, 'Gul-kam's brother's wrists were broken on Judge Anwar's orders because he had painted a banner for the opposition.' Aslam quietly captures his country's oppressive past and the ferocity of its religious schisms.