Soniah Kamal’s An Isolated Incident deals with the complicated and often ungraspable notions of loss, memory and history. The book starts off in Kashmir with young and promising Zari Zoon creating a sense that it is going to be her story. Soon enough Zari’s life and the novel’s setting are inverted and readers follow her to India, Pakistan and then America. Changes in the book’s geographical setting along with shifts in the narrative’s perspective make it clear that An Isolated Incident is not just Zari’s story. New characters are introduced along with their own personal perspectives such as young and desperately earnest Billy. The overwhelming intensity of Billy’s emotions takes over the narrative and his perspective continues through a significant portion of the book. Shuffling back and forth between character perspectives An Isolated Incident is then a telling of several entangled stories. While some take up more room than others in the work each one is a personal tale and hence relevant. Zari’s initial tragedy is clearly not as simple as the “isolated incident”, officials report it to be. A particular incident in her life sets in motion a series of incidents that impact other characters in the story. Previous instances of untraceable causes and effects led to Zari’s own incident. The book then raises the question of whether there is even such a thing as “an isolated incident.”
The novel’s writing reads easily and is written in a way that draws readers in from the very beginning keeping them engrossed with its engaging style and unfolding of events. One flows through its prose, particularly in its first half, until unsuspectingly hitting upon a startling realization neatly and secretly tucked away for maximum impact. A particularly eye opening aspect of the novel is the depiction of Srinagar through Zari’s eyes and experiences in the beginning of the book. Descriptions of daily life in Kashmir, its disruption in particular, share an eerie similarity to daily life in currently unstable Karachi. Characters in the book grapple with the intermingling of personal and national history and work through experiencing and coping with extreme loss. The book must be appreciated for its ability to make one laugh at its moments of humour, to induce heartache at its depictions of loss and also to make one smile at its descriptions of young and innocent romance.
Soniah Kamal’s previous involvement in the literary sphere includes short stories, essays, reviews and editing. An Isolated Incident is her first novel. She was born in Karachi and has since lived in London, Jeddah, Lahore and the US.
An Isolated Incident can be ordered online here: http://www.libertybooks.com/bookdetail.aspx?pid=21912