To be clear, The Black Falcon
is not science fiction. The connection to Dune was that it is set in a harsh, desert-like wilderness where tribal law is supreme. Here is a reasonably accurate review from Amazon:
Two unique features made me want to read this book by Jamil Ahmad. The first one was the fact that the author had written the stories in this book in the early 1970s and had just filed them away for almost forty years before publishing it as his first novel at the ripe old age of eighty. The second was that this is a book that tells you stories about the nomadic and settled tribes of Waziristan, Baluchistan and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa - something that very few, if any, have probably done before in English. Being from India, I was particularly keen to learn about these tribes because all that we hear about them nowadays are horror stories in the international media. The author, though an ethnic Punjabi, writes about them without judgement and with love and affection. He is well qualified to write on the subject as he served in these border areas as a Pakistani Civil Service officer for many years.
The book, though billed as a novel, seems to me a collection of independent short stories about the various tribes. The only thread that links them in a fragile way is the character of young Tor Baz, belonging possibly to the Siahpad tribe. The stories are mostly about enforcing the harsh tribal laws, about following traditions which are alien to modern societies, about dealing with the complexities of migration across national boundaries by nomadic tribes without documents etc. The last three chapters chronicle stories about the lives of two women who run away from their homes due to ill-treatment by their husbands but eventually end up being 'sold' in the market to prospective brothel owners or their agents in the cities. It was heart-rending to read these three chapters as it is painful for me to realize that in our sub-continent such things have happened as recently as forty years ago and still happens in all our big cities even now. One of the stories deals with the Mehsud tribe kidnapping a government official from the city for ransom in order for the tribesmen to make some money. It is written about in such a matter-of-fact manner by the author without any ethical judgement. I thought this was brilliant. In the same way, he writes about the trafficking of destitute women by men and selling one's own children temporarily to another during times times of acute poverty, again without any ethical judgement. I think this is what makes the stories special.
Most of the tribes Jamil Ahmad writes about seem to be illiterate and place high value on honor and on their given word. However, there is also much cruelty in their lives, much physical hardship and survival and death. There are some wonderful lines in the book as follows:
While writing about the Mehsuds and the Wazirs, he says: ..."Nature has bred in both an unusual abundance of anger, enormous resilience, and a total refusal to accept their fate...". I feel that the American and NATO forces are finding the truth of this statement today.
I found the stories quite educational and exotic. Anyone interested in the lives of people in these frontier areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan would not be disappointed in reading this book. The language used by the author is simple and straightforward and fits in well with the