Cover Image: Entangled Lives

Entangled Lives

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Member Reviews

*An ARC was provided in exchange for an honest review.*

An interesting story that gives a human face of someone who was fighting with the Taliban...however, in my copy the formatting was a mess and the story jumped back and forth between Reza's, Tara's and Rachael's stories so abruptly that it was hard to follow.
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Behind the inflammatory headlines lies a tragic reality

The newspaper headlines only present one side of a complex story when it comes to reporting about the Taliban. The reality is heartbreaking and the author uses his narrative to explain how poor young men are cannon fodder for the war machine that feeds the extremism of the Taliban.

Young boys that are orphaned or from poor families are given to the Madrasa, supposedly to be educated but the reality is that they are indoctrinated, often suffer horrific sexual abuse at the hands of the very men that are supposed to protect them and are then sent to fight for a cause that has no meaning to them. Money is exchanged in return for this steady supply of young men by the wealthy countries supporting the Taliban such as Saudi Arabia. The reality is that these young men are no more than pawns in a dirty game of war and power.

This wonderful book puts into perspective exactly who the enemy is, and it is not the young man or woman forced into situations over which they have no control. The so-called enemy wearing the suicide belt or driving the truck into the crowd or planting the bomb is just another casualty of war.

If only the reporters took the time to look behind the scenes and in doing so would report a very different story. The majority of news agencies seem more concerned with headlines than reporting the other side of the story.

If the public was given the real story, that these young people are targeted as vulnerable youngsters and given no choice but to carry out the instructions of those that control them, there might be more understanding and empathy.

Raza is the ‘face of the enemy’, a poor Pakistani boy whose life is blighted by tragedy. The local Mullah offers to take him in and educate him after he is left an orphan but this turn of events leads him to be sold to the Taliban as a soldier. Even after running away with a young girl he meets in the Madrasa he cannot escape the fate that powerful men have decided for him. The young woman is also another pawn in the game that these powerful men play and she has been promised to a much older man as his third wife and she too has no control over her destiny either.

Raza is ultimately captured and imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay and this is where he meets the American journalist from his past. This past encounter serves to highlight that humanity can triumph in the worst of circumstances.

It is a tragic story and the reader is compelled to examine the reality that faces so many young, destitute people the world over. The author makes it clear this is one aspect of a very complex situation but it is certainly food for thought.


Breakaway Reviewers received a copy of this book to review
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a gem of a story--emotionally resonant while being culturally impactful. the novel isn't some forgettable social artifact but an exceptional literary work
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Thought provoking and sad, everyone should read this to understand some of the many facets that make up human conflict. Imran Omer gives us a vivid picture of a Raza, poor Pakistani orphan brought up in a corrupt madrassah. He tries to escape, but never really has a chance of a normal life and is eventually forced to fight for the Taliban. The novel starts with his meeting with Rachel an American journalist who persuades him to tell her his story, so we see the conflict in Afghanistan from both perspectives. The characterisation and the narration are so clear, I had to check to see if it was a true story.
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This novel should be required reading for all westerners. 

Imran Omer puts a very human face on 'the Enemy' by showing us the way young boys are indoctrinated and abused then sold to the Taliban as fresh young 'soldiers' for their cause, never really knowing what they are doing, or why they are doing it.  

Raza, a very believable character, is raised and isolated in a Pakistani madrassah run by a fanatical and abusive Mullah, then sold across the border into Afghanistan as a Talib. 

The writer states in more than one place in the novel that not all madrassahs are like this and we learn something about the history/culture/poverty of the area and that there are many different cultural groups there with good and bad/extremists among them as with every other country, religion and group of people. 

Raza's whole life is a tragedy, from conception to imminent demise, and whatever he does in order to survive, the reader cannot help but understand and feel for the way he is treated/used and his lack of freedom to choose his own path. 

Even the final points, where his innate empathy and morality win through, where he and an American journalist become the 'Entangled Lives' of the title, ultimately lead to his incarceration, torture and expected death in Guantanamo Bay detention centre......yet because of this entanglement we see an exchange of mercy, kindness and empathy which gives us hope for the human race in general. 

Highly recommended reading, written simply but well, in a way that would be accessible to all who were willing to open their hearts and minds to the fact that a person is not necessarily 'bad because they fight for someone or something which one is against. The novel most certainly makes you think - about all soldiers and all war.
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This book tells the story of Raza and Perveen who grow up in a madrassah, which they try unsucessfully to escape. Raza is ultimately forced to travel to Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban. Twice, in different circumstances, he meets Rachael, an American Journalist.

The narration of the story switches between Raza and Rachael. I found Rachael's narration to be extremely absorbing and one which read almost as a memoir. In fact, the whole book has the feeling of a true story, I suppose because, in part, it is based on real conflict and recent history. It is tragically sad in parts, but is also one of those books which gives you a glimpse into a different culture and a very, very different way of life.

Thank you to Netgalley for an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Entangled Lives 
by Imran Omer 
Release Date: July 27, 2018
Roundfire Books 
ISBN: 978-1785357848
Jane Smiley (author of Private Life and Some Luck) said that “in our dangerous world, the freedom and empathy that fiction develops in its remains essential.” She was defining how fiction has the power to show us not only human truth, but to make us feel the power of that truth. And she goes on to explain that “reading fiction is and always was about learning to see the world through often quite alien perspectives.” And that brings us to Omer’s Entangled Lives. A novel that shows the interconnections between a journalist, a Taliban fighter in Afghanistan, and the lives that are tangled between these two main protagonists. 

In the slums of Pakistan, Rasa is a poor orphan who grows up in a strict and confining madrassah. There he meets and falls in love with Perveen. In their desperation for change and a life together, they decide to flee the madrassah and the city. When their dreams of escape fail, a pregnant Perveen is sent home while Raza is sent to Afghanistan to fight as a Taliban solider.  Just before he leaves to fight across the border, he learns who his mother is, and why she had to give him up. Knowing his past, he has to survive his life in Afghanistan and return to Perveen and his child. 

On the other side of the world, a journalist named Rachael Brown travels to Afghanistan to to report on the political unrest and the coming civil war. She meets Raza for a brief interview and realizes that the Taliban has filled its ranks with poor, desperate young men with no future. Through the unfolding war, these two unlikely strangers meet in an epic meeting of fate. The result is how two people from the most unlikely places can change the course of life. In a time of labels, stereotypes, and socio-politic polarization, this novel brings to focus the complexity and dynamics watching your life change in the currents of political and social change. 

Novels are meant to connect more than just a telling of events, they are designed to immerse the reader into something more, to draw out empathy, character, and truth in terms of universal qualities. Jane Smiley explains it as the “reading fiction is and always was a practice in empathy” which cuts down those stereotypes, that changes are vision of the world, and shows us the universal struggles that is so easy to cast off, turn into a sound byte, or shape into political divisions. Entangled Lives is a connective novel that shifts views and shows the intersection of two worlds in face of the darkest moments in our lives. Set in the Middle East and focused about two unlikely people in the face of great odds, this novel compares to The Kite Runner and Girls of Riyadh.
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This is a well written book with excellent descriptive narrative.  It gives an insight into the lives of young Arabs caught up in the conflict and also the culture of their lives.
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The author gives the reader an inside look at how many of the soldiers that fight for the Taliban are brainwashed and forced into obedience.   The story follows  Raza, a young Pakistani lad who through poverty and abandonment ends up in a strict madrasah.   There he was abused and beaten for any minor misbehaviours.   He sees and falls in love with Preveen, and they try unsuccessfully to escape.     At 17 he's forced to go to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban.   While there he meets Rachael Brown, a war correspondent, once when she interviews him and once in very different circumstances.  Their lives become entwined as the title suggest.   Very well written and I recommend reading it, but a word of caution, the incidents of brutality are not for the feint hearted.
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An american journalist and a poor, orphaned Pakstani forced into fighting for the Taliban pre-911 cross paths on two occasions. the first is a brief interview and the second is a life-threatening situation. The story of Raza, the Pakistani forced into fighting for the Taliban and Rachel, the American journalist with her own set of problems is a forceful depiction of life and humanity.
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Raza, Perveen and Rachael, three people whose paths cross and each will never be the same. Raza and Perveen both are growing up in the slums of Pakistan. Rachael is an investigative journalist who has worked in the area for years and struggles with her own demons.
My main reason for wanting to read this book was to understand the path to becoming a Taliban soldier. The author accomplishes this, and it’s not a happy road to follow. Perveen, Raza’s love, being a female in the land of Sharia law has it so much worse. She doesn’t gain as much attention and compassion in the story as she deserves. The lives of each of these youth are so dispensable, unloved, not cherished.
Rachael is a very hard-working and dedicated reporter. A glimpse into the working conditions of her life is enough to gain respect for her trade. In an interesting turn of events, Raza spares Rachael’s life, thus the bridge between the three is built.
The later chapters of the book seem to falter a bit, and the subject jumped without warning. Other than that, I found this a very interesting and compelling book about a subject that I’m trying to give a face to.
(I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thank you to John Hunt Publishing, LTD and NetGalley for making it available.)
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It’s always satisfying when someone does what they say they will do and Roundfire have done it with this novel. Their claim that. “Put simply we publish great stories” rings true with this work from Imran Omer. His insightful probe into the inner thoughts and beliefs of the Taliban were both informative and alarming and the world is a better place now that they are gone.

Imran blend of cultures, Eastern and Western is seamless and convincing and his character development is well rounded.
This is a novel that leaves more questions than it answers and, to my taste, that is exactly how it should be. Wanting more.
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An emotional read that will keep thinking and rightly so. The conflicts involving countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan are what we only see and get the view point from the media. We never learn about where the hate comes from and why. Raza, one of the main characters in this story grew up in a madrasa in Pakistan after his mother left. Were the boys at the madrasa were treated badly and became dollars per head to go fight for the Taliban. Most of which didn't understand the war and were hopelessness turned into hate. But not hate targeted towards one individual but a hate in general. Imran Omer's voice is important for us to listen to so that we can truly understand and fight against it.
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Kudos to Imran Omer – he has the audacity to take the perspective of a Taliban fighter (of course not to absolve him from his crimes, but to shine a light on his perceptions) and to confront Western readers with the historic realities of people living in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Most people in the West (me included) do not know enough about these regions, although some local conflicts have been prompted and shaped by Western politics. Just as Arundhati Roy’s "The Ministry of Utmost Happiness" (in which Kashmir plays an important role), “Entangled Lives” immerses its readers in these conflicts and shows how they affect families over generations.

Omer’s book tells the story of Raza, who grows up as an orphan in a radical religious school in Pakistan. He falls in love with Perveen and they run away – when they are caught, the head of the school sells impertinent Raza to the Taliban, and they in turn send him off to fight in Afghanistan. When Raza arrives in Kabul in 1996, the Taliban are still a milita, and Omer describes the period during which they gained power and established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The narrative features real historic figures like the head of the UN Special Mission to Afghanistan, Norbert Heinrich Holl, and we even witness the brutal killing of Mohammad Najibullah, former President of Afghanistan. 

But this is not the only timeline we are following: Before Raza leaves Pakistan, he gets a hold of his mother’s diary through which we learn about his family background. Raza’s mother was not only caught up in the ethnic tensions in Pakistan, she also experienced the Bangladesh Liberation War (Bangladesh was a province of Pakistan from 1947 to 1971). Raza’s grandmother, about whom we hear only briefly, also lived through turmoil: She witnessed the unrest in the times of the Pakistan Movement that brought independence from the British Empire in 1947. Three generations who have known nothing but violence and war. 

Apart from Raza, the story has a second protagonist: Rachael comes to Afghanistan as an American war reporter when she first meets Raza as a young Taliban fighter. Raza tells her his story when he ends up in Guantanamo (no, this is no spoiler, it’s actually the opening scene of then book). 

It’s pretty challenging to follow this story when you’re unfamiliar with the political developments in the region, but it is also rewarding: After finishing the book, you will know a lot more stuff that, let’s be real, you should have known already. Nevertheless, the book is also a little overburdened: Omer had many ideas for his narratives, and while none of them are bad, it’s just a little too much. For instance, that Rachael also faces relationship difficulties due to cultural differences is just too obvious a narrative move. There are many, many intricacies here, and while this speaks for an author who really thought out his material, it overwhelmed me a little.

My main issue though is that Raza is an atypical Taliban (when sent to the war, he says: “I am being led to the slaughter, what’s there to be proud of?”; Rachael also perceives him as unusual among the Taliban) - although his whole education consists of radical indoctrination, he always holds the viewpoint of a man who sees through the charade and fights against his will, because he has nowhere else to go. While there might be Taliban who think like him, the perspective of someone who bought into the ideology and did or did not change his mind when he saw what it practically meant might have been more relevant, or the perspective of one of the many fighters who joined the Taliban because they thought their regime will finally bring a united and peaceful Afghanistan. With Raza, we seem to encounter a pretty unusual terrorist. 

But maybe I am mistaken and the phenomenon Omer describes was more widespread; on his publisher's website, it says: "While the war touched the society as a whole, it was the vulnerable people on the lower rungs of the economic ladder who were most affected. Young men that were seduced by the madrassahs, working under the patronage of the state, were sacrificed in the fire of the war. Entangled Lives is the story of those young men." After all, Omer was born in Karachi and witnessed the chaos in Pakistan which resulted from the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1980. Still, the question remains whether these poor fighters were generally really as aware of their situation as Raza.

All in all, books like this are extremely important, because they shine a light on historic conflicts Westerners usually don’t know much about (or were you familiar with the recent history of Pakistan?). There is a risk that we grow numb towards the destiny of the people who live in these regions, a destiny that we do not understand because we only see televised bits of it, and Omer is one of the voices who fight against this.

“As if to urge us on, the blood of our fellows began to drip down from the sides of the pickup, reminding us with all its ferocity that we were now officially a part of a war in which our roles would be minor, but our sacrifices would be major.”
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