Granta, £12.99, 288pp. £11.69 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Granta 112: Pakistan, Edited by John Freeman

When Granta magazine brought out a special India edition to mark the nation's "Golden Jubilee" year in 1997, the collection appeared to have a genuine sense of celebration, of a nation fighting to free itself from the ghost of colonial rule.

More than a decade later, Granta has turned its attention to India's beleaguered, bullet-riddled neighbour, Pakistan. What emerges is a land clouded in darkness, perhaps unsurprisingly, given that Pakistan is, 63-years after its birth, bent double with political strife, religious fundamentalism and rising militarism, when even its otherwise adored cricket team is mired in shame.

John Freeman, editor of the magazine, followed serendipitous, word-of-mouth leads and suggestions from the likes of the author, Patrick French to The Wire writer, Richard Price, to commission the 18 featured pieces. He gave the writers an open, unboundaried brief. What he received was some exquisitely-crafted pieces aboutdoomed love, teen romance, immigrant nostalgia. More often than not, however, the writing is framed within the unforgiving narratives of political repression, internecine savagery, and terror that overwhelm this collection.

The various works are a mix of memoir, poems, short stories, and reportage, from the likes of Fatima Bhutto, a scion of the Bhutto dynasty, to the eminent Urdu writer, Intizar Hussain. The "new" writers are, by and large, already leading lights who have established themselves in the firmament of international contemporary fiction such as Nadeem Aslam, Kamila Shamsie and Mohsin Hamid. While they may not be all that new, they offer fine, inventive fiction nonetheless.

Aslam's novella, "Leila in the Wilderness", one of the longest pieces in Granta's commissioning history which took the award-winning writer 15-years of rumination and rough drafts, is among the strongest offerings. Aslam manipulates the old subcontinental legend of star-crossed lovers, Leila and Qes, to dramatise the age-old prejudices towards the birth of girl babies that survive to this day in Pakistan. The result is spectacular, reminiscient of Angela Carter's feminist fairytales in The Bloody Chamber in its imaginative revisionism. He even employs magic realism to marry ancient legend with the post 9/11 politics of the here and now.

If Granta's India edition brought to light the brilliant young writer, Arundhati Roy, who won the Booker prize later that year, this collection's equivalent gem of a find is the older but nonetheless astonishing talent of the hitherto unpublished 79-year-old civil servant, Jamal Ahmad, whose collection of short stories has now been bought by Hamish Hamilton.

"The Sins of the Mother" is a stunning story of illicit love caught in the doomladen matrix of tribal honour and retribution. Any didacticism in the message behind the story - that honour killings are no less horrifying for being accepted custom in rural Pakistan - is cancelled out by the magnificence of Ahmad's storytelling.

Portraits are drawn of the key despots, military dictators and patriots: Zia-ul-Huq is depicted through his hypocritical, cowering acolytes; Basharat Peer offers a stark picture of wartorn Kashmir with its boy soldiers who use as their role models the fearless stone throwers and martyrs of Palestine ("Palestinian stone-throwers became their inspiration. The nucleus of the intifada is the vast square and maze of lanes around Srinagar's grand mosque..." ). The Gemini-nature of the country's founding father, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, is shown in the way in which his image is packaged and repackaged by subsequent leaders, from those portraits that capture him as a dandified, Western-educated secularist to high-collared photographs that suggest he is a devout friend of the clerics.

Declan Walsh's reportage on Pashtun machismo in the North West Frontier, delivered so poetically, and Lorraine Adams and Ayesha Nasir investigations into the prosecution cases behind the 'war on terror' are as dazzling and dramatic as fiction.

Granta's Pakistan is a bleak but mersmerising one that rages with astounding horrors. Yet this "immense homeland of heartbreaking beauty" is not without love, romance, nor hope.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future