Conflict and cultivation
The plot is relatively simple, even theatrical; the dialogue is often stagy, as Aslam is far more concerned with mood, emotion and moral choice. Yet there are episodes of staggering clarity.
Concealed horses are remembered, bursting out of the earth. Jeo experiences pain “he could not have imagined” and notices the blossoms on his attacker’s dress. “How easy it is to create ghosts, he thinks as he begins to die a minute later, feeling his mind closing chamber by chamber . . . Just before the world vanishes, a hope surfaces in him . . . that he will return somehow.” Elsewhere, Rohan, having had pulverised stone grit thrust into his eyes, stumbles and realises he is blind. A man’s fate is sealed when his sister-in-law unwittingly calls him by name, identifying him for his killers.
Mikal survives pain and torture, initially by Afghan warlords and then by US interrogators, to be asked: “Where are you going? Where is your home?” His reply is prophetic: “I don’t know. I am alone.”
Mikal does return briefly to a storybook normality. But Aslam makes a daring decision and sets Mikal, not quite an Everyman, not quite a hero, although damned with a desperate sense of honour, on a bizarre odyssey culminating in the rescue of a US soldier. It adds an exciting, if implausible, dimension to the narrative, which then becomes tediously ensnared in logistics such as the unlikely stoicism of a snow-leopard cub or the fact that an old truck appears to run on hope in the absence of any conventional fuel.
As a novel The Blind Man’s Garden lacks the compelling artistic cohesion of The Wasted Vigil. It is not as brilliantly choreographed as the Indian writer Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya’s reimagining of Antigone, also set in Afghanistan, The Watch (2012). Still, there is no disputing the passion and urgency of Nadeem Aslam’s work. Its elegantly raw humanity appeals to the soul, as does this fractured, important novel.