‘A writer to watch.’ That’s what author V.S. Naipaul had to say about Aatish Taseer’s 2009 debut work, Stranger to History. Taseer was born in London in a tryst between an Indian Sikh mother and Pakistani Salmaan Taseer, who went on to become Governor of Punjab before being assassinated this January for opposing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Given Taseer’s personal insight into the heartbreak of the Indo-Pakistani rift, expectations were high for his next novel. So does Taseer’s 2011 novel Noon prove Naipaul right?
Hardly. Noon, four tales of India and Pakistan today, wobbles between fiction, memoir, and sociology. It traces the return of a fictive stand-in for Taseer to Delhi who witnesses there the class politics of the New India. Later searching for his estranged father in Karachi, he sees linguistic extremists burn stores with English-language signs, before immolating themselves when they learn their own names have Sanskrit roots.
Taseer’s nonfiction writing has shown his feel for these contradictions of South Asia, and the subject matter makes comparison with authors like Mohsin Hamid, Arundhati Roy, or Aravind Adiga inescapable. But Noon‘s characters are ciphers who can’t sufficiently probe these themes, and the prose feels flaccid at times. And Noon‘s value as history is undermined by numerous errors of fact. That’s too bad. Readers today deserve fiction that conveys the ambitions and anxieties of both Lahore and Delhi. Taseer may yet step into this role and fulfill Naipaul’s augury, but Noon is an outing to overlook.