I don't have the time to write something longer, but I have to note these down or I'll forget.
The anticipation of love: The whole book is full of it. It is always
standing around at the edges, teasing you, testing you, seeing if you'll
fall for it. I did, convincingly, every time. I fell for every
character meant for love, whether or not anyone in the book actually
did. I fell for Qayyum Gul (with his hands behind his head alone on a
berth in a train; one eyed Qayyum, sure yet so very unsure of himself.)
And I kept hoping she would too. I kept looking for it - Now it will happen, oh, now she will recognize him, wait this is the moment. A moment. I can't say if I loved the book for the anticipation of love, or for the love there actually is.
2. Reading Shamsie is like reading a non-fantasy Guy Gavriel Kay. It
feels like you're really reading a book on history in story form. It's
well-researched and a terrific pleasure. Makes you want to read up on
little things. (May be I'm drawing this comparison because I've been
reading Kay like a beast. But if you read Kay and Shamsie in succession,
I dare you not to make it too). I loved her account of wartime Britain for its little details, the politics, the opinions. I loved how Vivian grows through the book: I love her idea of service to a nation in wartime, and how it changes as she becomes her own person. I love the tension in the book when the man from the government comes to meet her. You know she can't be that silly, you want her to not be that silly. When she is, you're immediately heart-broken. You know what is coming, it's an inevitability. But you hope because she hopes.
3. I really really want to go to Turkey.
4. My southern school education somehow missed out on the immediacy and
intimacy of the history of partition, and I think this is true of many
of my South Indian friends. A lot of North Indian friends of mine have a
romantic notion of Pakistan - they have roots there (a grandparent who
left, lands, families, that sort of thing). To me, it has always been a
different culture, a different people. When I found out that they have a
Punjab too, somehow Pakistani butter chicken became something I had to
try. (I was 11. Not much has changed). So when I read Pakistani writers,
I read them as I would read any other writer. Suddenly little
unexpected things pop out at me and I think aha, there's
something I didn't expect you to be like. With Mohammed Hanif's Alice
Bhatti, I kept thinking that way about caste. About how I understood its perpetuation without really thinking about it as different/Pakistani.
happened with Shamsie too, but not in the same way: With her, it was
about the cultural references. The train stations, the quaint streets,
the clubs. (In my head, they look like old Hyderabad, and I can say with
some certainty that the clubs are the same everywhere. I've been to
Gymkhanas all over the country, and if they haven't changed between
Hyderabad, Bangalore, Calcutta and Delhi, I doubt they're largely
different or the sandwiches are much better in Pakistan).