Monday, October 31, 2011

Personal Battles: Curfewed Nights

Basharat Peer's memoir Curfewed Night gives a journalist's account of growing up in Kashmir, a contested territory where bombings and disappearances gradually become so commonplace they almost seem an invisible part of life.  Peer describes his childhood, starting from before he really understood any of the politics and just before those politics became deadly; as he moves into adolescence and the conflict becomes violent he encounters military barricades, mandatory identify cards, armed searches, and friends disappearing to join the insurgents. His gradual understanding and growth in both experience and perspective helped me comprehend the situation, since I came to the book with a very limited knowledge of the history of Kashmir and its role in the Indian-Pakistan wars.

The second half of the book follows Peer's active attempt to understand what was happening to his country and to the people in it.  After he graduates and works in Delhi as a journalist, he decides to leave his job and write about his homeland.  He mentions the uncertainty of going from a salaried position to free lance work, but concentrates more on the issues facing the people he interviews, from parents of people killed (by both insurgents and the Indian army) to current and ex- warriors to people trying to navigate a life in between the restrictions and bombing.  He faces his own involvement as well, admitting that he isn't dispassionate and sometimes can't ask the questions his training prompts him towards because of the insensitivity required. His subjects are his peers and friends before they are witnesses, and he tells their stories from the inside.

I felt Peer gave a good introduction to the situation, one that gave me a sense of the many aspects of the situation and showed me hints of where I needed to know more of the history and personalities to really understand why the fighting continues.  I think I had picked this book because of my Global Reading Challenge, but actually it doesn't count since it's not a novel.  I'm still glad I read it.

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