Book Review: The Verdict ( 2020) By Osman Haneef
“One always feels Pakistan before one sees it.”
I was curious about how the writer would address the subject of blasphemy in his debut novel, ‘The Verdict.’ He’s done it well through the vehicle of fiction. One expected an uneasy tentativeness to pervade the story, but happily that’s not the case.
Without giving too much away, the story revolves around Sikander, a young U.S. trained lawyer who returns to Pakistan after many years abroad. He finds himself taking up the case of a young Christian boy and at the same time meets a former flame who he met in the U.S., and now an accomplished lawyer. There are elements of magical realism that bring up philosophical questions about free will and fate that gives the story an interesting touch.
The Verdict has quite a lot to say, and does so without getting caught up going overboard on one topic. In doing so, the writer addresses a myriad of areas; justice, blasphemy, human rights, interrelationships, corruption, unrequited love and death. All these aspects play an important part in the story. Also, the non-linear style to the story lends a sense of anticipation to the characters and the plot.
Quetta as a setting and backdrop within the story is both refreshing and inclusive. I liked the writer’s choice of setting given that I am familiar with the place. “Quetta is no longer the place it used to be”. The reader can sense a subtle sense of humour and innuendo at play in the writing when the author observes, “Unlike the rest of the city, the cantonment had manicured lawns, parks and sidewalks. It felt like another country.”
A sense of division and duality also exists in relationships between some characters. Sanah’s husband Fazeel seems to symbolically represent the military whereas Sikander represents civil society, but this may not have been the author’s intention.
An insightful quote from the court judge telling Sikander privately, “You are from here but you are also not from here,” letting him know that he is too naïve to understand how things work. This is partly because he has lived abroad and is straightforward. Unlike Atticus Finch in ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ who comes across as a savior, Sikander is not looking to be one. His intentions have to do with his sense of guilt and misbehavior towards Ahbey, who had brought him up, and whose grandson was accused of blasphemy. “He told himself that he had come for her. Had he actually come for himself?”