In Jamil Ahmad's debut novel, "The Wandering Falcon," a father explains to his son, after hearing devastating news, "One lives and survives only if one has the ability to swallow and digest bitter and unpalatable things."
The unrelenting landscape between Afghanistan and Pakistan provides the backdrop for Ahmad's interlinked stories of nomadic tribes that must "swallow and digest" constant tribal disputes, violence and government interference from both sides of the border, as well as hunger and uncertainty on a daily basis.
Ahmad uses the figure of Tor Baz, a boy born at the beginning of the novel, to lead his readers through tribal cultures within the region. Tor Baz hovers at the edges of Ahmad's pages, stepping in when needed in the narrative, and remaining to the side when other stories need to be in the spotlight. Each chapter feels like its own parable, and while Ahmad does not shelter the reader from the harshness of tribal culture, he tempers it with a little humor when you least expect it.
Much has been made of Ahmad's age when he wrote the novel -- 79 -- and his background as a government worker in Pakistan. He may not have the finesse of a more experienced writer, but he has an innate talent for storytelling that brings this rich culture of a constantly shifting map to life.