America, the melting pot, embodies a dynamic, shifting array of cultures gradually woven together into a grand tapestry. For 1st and 2nd generation immigrants, an existential challenge arises as they try to understand their history and their place in the new reality of the American landscape. Cultural clashes emerge and dissipate at the most unexpected of times. This fantastical novella follows one such young man in his mid-20s trying to understand his Pakistani immigrant father and grandfather who represent a world and culture far removed from the Florida landscape he grew up in.
Salman “Sal” Ali Zaidi focuses on graduate school, his undergrad students and his pretty, red-headed girlfriend, Sara, neglecting to visit his Pakistani immigrant family in Florida for years. His parents know he has a white girlfriend, but don’t approve–so they’ve never met. When his senile grandfather dies, Sal treks home alone despite Sara’s protestations, to find closure and understanding with his family and cultural history.
Gramps’ fantastical tales of the Old World and Old Lahore come rushing back, though Sal’s father dismisses the old tales. Gramps’ life was beset with change and movement as he lost his wife early on and burdened by an infant boy, traveled from Old Lahore to Turkey and back before emigrating to America. His most elaborate tale precedes his short-lived marriage and tells the story of a Mughal Princess named Zeenat Begum that lived next door in Old Lahore. Her poor, displaced family ran a tea shop, but was protected by a Jinn living in a Eucalyptus tree in front of the shop. The tree centered a few stories, such as when a boy fell from the tree and lightning struck the tree. Eventually, the princess and her family moved away, but not before she told young Muhammad Sharif [Gramps] to find the relic buried beneath the tree and hide it away forever . . .
Sal finds Gramps’ journals and books upon his funerary visit, but they cast only more questions about the strange tales of the Old World. Mystic wisdom and hints of truth permeate the notes and memories of the Princess and Jinn tales. In a desperate act to find himself and the family past lost to fantastic lore, Sal journeys to Old Lahore . . .
This novella is beautifully and movingly woven. Love and selflessness permeate the threads of the tale as one man finds his past in his future and his future in his past with lessons to be learned by all. This supernatural tale is highly recommended.
This tale appears in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 10 edited by Jonathan Strahan. I received this new anthology from Netgalley. It also appears in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Science Fiction Novellas: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously reviewed this author’s “Resurrection Points”.
[Check out my other reviews here.]