THE book that I have been slow-reading through the year is Dada Amir Haider Khan's memoir, Chains to Lose. It's the best coming-of-age story I have ever read as the coming-of-age happens in the barracks of a Peshawar cantonment, in the opium dens of Calcutta and then mostly in the engine rooms of ships headed to far-off exotic ports.
Long before he became a Marxist revolutionary Khan was a chronic rebel who ran away from his village near Rawalpindi even before he was a teenager and became a sailor before reaching puberty. From here on his life becomes an endless adventure and we get to see the great port cities of the world through a teenager's eyes. Khan is a natural storyteller and it's a thrill-a-page read. I have reached the part where Khan is headed to Moscow for his political education and I don't want this book to end. Published by the Pakistan Study Centre of Karachi University, I wish it was made more widely available and translated into other languages. (Some parts of it have been translated brilliantly into Punjabi by Huma Safdar).
Other books that I have read and enjoyed this year include Hangwoman by K.R. Meera, an incredible voice from India. I have reread George Saunders's short stories, scary and funny at the same time. Hasan Mujtaba's book of poems Koel Shehr Ki Katha reminds us why poetry matters; Ajmal Kamal's collection of essays Achi Urdu Bhi Kya Buri Shay Hai includes some of the wittiest and sharpest essays about literature and politics. Mubashir Ali Zaidi writes these 100-word stories and if you get over the gimmick, there are some real gems. Sometimes you think you have read the book but you have only seen the movie based on the book. I had this illusion about Umrao Jaan Ada; I am reading the novel these days and loving it.