Connie Martinson Talks Books, April 3, 2009 (review)
The problem of Kashmir is an ongoing political problem without a resolution. It is the background for George Mastras” book, “Fidali’s Way” (Scribner $26.00), a superb, engrossing novel.
Formerly a Boston lawyer, Nicholas Sunder has left that world to backpack through Southern Asia. In this life, one picks up traveling com[anions. Nicholas acquires Yvette and Simon. Simon leaves Yvette and she tags along with Nicholas, becoming lovers in the process. They arrive in Peshawar, the North West frontier province in Pakistan. Simon is to meet them there.
Nicholas is awoken in his hotel room to find Inspector Rasool Mohammed Akhtar with the Investigation Wing of the Peshawar Police3 and Sub Inspector Abdul Shiraz .They want to know when he last saw Yvette. Why did he not call the police when she did not return? They take Nicholas to the police station where they interrogate him and more importantly take his passport which they do not return. Yvette’s body has been found and Nicholas is accused of her murder. He claims that he didn’t do it, Simon is the murderer, this is his only means of getting out of jail. He returns to his hotel room where he plans a midnight escape with whatever money he can find in order to buy a passport and passage to India. On the way, he is found by Akhtar and in a shooting battle, Nicholas kills him. Without a passport and with this murder, he is a wanted man. Nichols will reunite with Ghulam and Fidali who had been in the jail with him. They are smugglers who are selling contraband and must go over the dangerous mountains to escape the border patrols in Pakistan and India. They are heading to Kashmir.
The story continues with Aysha in Gilkamosh, the author’s depiction of a valley that was hidden in the mountains where all religions lived in peace, until a new madrass was built opposite the Temple of Shiva. Aysha was known since a child that she had the gift of healing. When she was fifteen, she met Kazim, a handsome student of the fundamentalist Mullah and leader of the separation from control of Kashmir in Delhi. The town has raised the tuition for Aysha to go to medical school and Kazim is being trained to join the Muslim rebellion. They fall in love and yet, they must go their separate ways, until they will meet years later.
Meanwhile, Nick joins up with Ghulam and Fidali. Fidali does not talk or let Nich know that he understands English. It is only when they cross a treacherous river that Nick learns of his ability and then as they cross a mine field and Nick steps on a mine Fidali pushes him off the mine and takes the explosion that will kill him. Nick cannot understand why Fidali would sacrifice his life to save Nicks.
Ghulam and Nick continue on to Gilkamosh where Nick will insist that Aysha help save Ghulam’s life. They become connected to her clinic, helping with the wounded of both the Muslim and Hindu sides. The Muslim terrorists will bomb families coming to the Temple of Shiva for Hindu celebration and the Indian army will reciprocate with equal ferocity.
The new mullah is furious that Aysha is helping the wounded from the Indian population and is not wearing the burkha. Kazim’s childhood friend acts out for the mullah and throws acid in her face. At the end, where all is resolved, we learn why Yvette was killed and by whom. One could say that she did it to herself by acting the diva in a world that considers women subservient and stoning to death is not unknown.
George told me when we taped that he wrote about what he knew for his first novel. He had been a Boston lawyer who felt that there had to be more than this in life. He and his wife took to the back pack life and he kept his eyes open. He wrote this book on an island in the Indian ocean. Today, with the success of this terrific book and his work on “Breaking Bad”, I laughed that he has found himself back in the world of agents and lawyers, the price of success.