Fatima Bhutto: Songs of Blood and Swords

I gave this book a huge margin for the fact that it’s not a work of history, as the author states right in the beginning, rather it’s her attempt to make sense of and come to terms with her own family history. So the following is my attempt to be less critical and hold the book to a different benchmark than my norm…

The book conveniently cherry picks a bunch of facts, true though some are, made up as others might be, to present a lopsided and sometimes made up view of history. The book is about Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his family, but switches over to dry facts and lots of omissions when convenient – in this case, Zulfi’s large role in instigating and supporting the civil war in East Pakistan, and his sheer meglomania throughout in not willing to accept a party which had won more seats and more votes than his own.

There is much history written about this era, some good, many bad, and having read much of it the gloss and spin in this spin makes for painful reading.

For a book about people, there is not much, if anything from the people involved directly – whether from diaries, interviews and so on. Perhaps I’m used to a different type of book when it comes to talking about people, but the author points out in the introduction that she did a lot of interviews and looked at numerous documents – which seems to me to have somehow slipped from the book itself. Yes, stuff does make it into the book, but it seems always in the midst of much omitted.

I try to read most of the books on Pakistan yet I have to place this one right at the bottom, nestling just below the government sponsored history books. The biggest difference is that the english is better, yet to give a sense of history and the place I have to place the government ones first – even though those are primarily propaganda pieces. To some extent thats the feeling I got from this book as well.

The book is long, and I marked some of the pages which had issues, whether in the historical sense or the spin put on events: Pages 4, 5, 6, 63, 74,75,76, 83, 97, 99, 100, 102, 103, 107, 114 – than I stopped as there were just too many. I was going to quote some of the more choice ones but I don’t want to ever open this book again, plus I gave it away after finishing it.

The saddest thing about this book is that it will be piled upon whatever pile of books the western journalist or foreign diplomat reads to “understand” Pakistan. Perhaps the best thing I can say after reading this book is that it gave me a lot of perspective into why those sorts get Pakistan so wrong repeatedly.

Some past history – some years ago I read an article by Fatima because a friend emailed it to me. That short article had over a dozen mistakes. She continues that tradition in the present, whether a book or interviews, as “you can see in this piece”:http://fivebooks.com/interviews/fatima-bhutto-on-pakistan:

bq. The Pakistani journalist, poet and novelist says the Urdu word for imperialism, samraj, is particularly telling. Urdu is not a language with words for computer, or wifi or text messaging, she says, so samraj is especially important because it literally means the raj of Uncle Sam.

It’s hard for me to say anything about this, except that maybe she just makes up stuff which western journalists can’t fact check in an attempt to make herself look knowledgable and exotic cause she knows exotic ‘Urdu’ words and stories. I don’t think she could be so mind-boggingly stupid to actually believe such stuff, and if she is, I’m sorry for her. “Cafe Pyala has a good takedown:”:http://cafepyala.blogspot.com/2010/09/fatimas-faux-up.html

bq. Yes, believe it or not, Ms Bhutto thinks (no doubt with astute research and a wildly associative mind) that ‘samraj’ refers to Uncle Sam! Tell that to etymologists who trace the word to at least as far back as the ancient Hindu Sanskritic text Rig Veda (dated to between 1700BC-1100BC) when Urdu was nowhere on the horizon and which literally means “emperor.” Emperors are imperial, no? (Thus ‘imperialism’ was easily translated as ‘samraji nizam’ in Urdu; incidentally ‘istemaar’ is also often used as a synonym though it technically refers to ‘colonialism.’)

He continues..

bq. “Not a language that automatically updates itself”??? You would have to be a total ignoramus about the evolution of Urdu as a lingua franca, bringing together words from Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Sanskrit and even English (among other languages) to make such a remarkable claim. If anything, the inclusion of these English language words, among thousands of others, is proof of the language’s inherent dynamism and openness. That is how Urdu was essentially formed in the first place. And it is a far more “automatically updating” language than either Arabic or French incidentally.

It’s conclusions like this one which occur in the book every so often, starting from page one onwards that made me want to throw this book out. At a minimum I thought the book would at least give me some new perspective on the Bhutto’s, from someone on the ‘inside’, but all it did was give a bit of insight into the author, and not much else.

1 thought on “Fatima Bhutto: Songs of Blood and Swords”

  1. Good decent review – I think i drew more or less the same conclusions – Whatever its worth I read only half way through —– then it just did not fancy my return.

    I just feared the bookmark that I placed right down the middle would end up lying there til eternity – KO you just gave it s death defying blow, I think I must now save the bookmark from the sheer trauma to have its leg jammed into a book of Pakistan history that shall never to be opened again… ouch

    After what you have read – do you see Fatima Bhutto as a good potential leader in Pakistan? or is se too embroiled in history to come out and make change?

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