A weekly short story series that was printed in a Pakistani Urdu digest, Pir e Kamil was first published as a complete novel in 2004. It gained immense popularity, propelling the author from screen writer to one of the most read contemporary Urdu writers of her generation. In 2011, the English translation of the novel was published. Given the novelist had a Master’s degree in English Literature, the novel is self-translated. When a novelist translates their own work, the advantage is this the reader is assured the work will stay true to its origin. However, the disadvantage of such an endeavor is that the author may overlook certain licenses allowed in changing writing styles when switching languages.
I may not have read the Urdu version of the Novel, but the English version can only be done justice if read with an Urdu narration in mind. The translation is literal, as if copied word for word off Google translate and taints the impact of the book. While it may still fare well in Pakistan or in the Urdu speaking market, Urdu writing style allows the reader to assume a lot and banks heavily on the use of anecdotes and idioms, which have been translated weakly. The writing style used for the novel is also not very descriptive, leaving holes in the story which may be accounted for as staying true to the original work, but will not do well for popularity of the book among English readers.
The book is written from the perspective of the author, who grew up in a small town and had a different experience of religion, society and the country’s elite. Given the English reading population is mostly found amongst the elite, the story is based on a biased view point which may not sit well with such readers. The soul search of both protagonists and the philosophy that the author attempts to highlight are based on interesting concepts but do not come through as the author may have intended.
On the whole, while the novel may be one of the most popular Urdu novels of the decade, it’s English translation is lacking and can be improved in future editions.
-This Review Has Been Sent By Sharmeen Khan