A Biased Review
Immolation of an Angel by Mohammad Sarwar is the first publication of The Metamodern Press. If you’re wondering why this is a “biased review,” it’s because I am The Metamodern Press.
I don’t want to go into what Metamodernism is outside of the fact that Metamodern literature is also known as “the new seriousness.” If we were to compare apples to apples — Sarwar is Pakistani, as is Salman Rushdie — then Sarwar’s novel is much more serious in tone than it anything by Rushdie. You will find some similar themes in each, and you will find aspects of fantasy and magical realism in each, as it is not themes nor these certain aspects of style that separate the postmodern from the metamodern. What matters is the turn from the feeling that you really shouldn’t take any of this seriously (a feeling one certainly feels from Rushdie) to the story being taken very seriously by the author, who hopes the reader will equally take the story seriously.
Storytelling is, after all, a serious endeavor. It’s how we spend most of our days — telling stories, watching stories on TV, reading stories, watching staged stories — and it’s how we communicate what it means to be human. Milan Kundera argued that the novel in particular reminds us of aspects of being which we have forgotten. If that’s the case, what could be more important than storytelling, especially in the style of the novel?
Sarwar tells the story of a man, Jibreel, who immigrated from Pakistan to the United States to become a radiologist, who then decides to retire and return to Pakistan to buy a van and provide mobile radiological services to rural areas. He puts together a team that includes a driver, a guard, and a nurse, and together they travel the countryside.
In this novel, we get to experience both urban and rural Pakistani culture, which in many ways are quite different from each other (much like rural and urban America are different from each other). However, we find both to be corrupt in their own distinct ways as well. And while Jibreel is more adept at working his way through urban corruption, the rural corruption manages to overcome him.
Of course, both are intimately intertwined. Jibreel brings several habits from America, including a taste for Scotch. Alcohol is illegal in Pakistan, so he has to get his Scotch through corrupt channels. However, it is this kind of thing that gets the attention of a radical Imam, who decides Jibreel needs to be brought to justice — his kind, if necessary.
Needless to say, I don’t want to ruin the story. There’s a love story and a crime story and a postcolonial story and the story of a good man trying to do good in the world. Beautiful things and terrible things happen. The world may be weary and the story may be tragic, but there’s a strange kind of hope — a tragic hope — in the story as well. Tragedy is perhaps what has been missing from our postmodern literature. A taste of the tragic at the very least is perhaps what brings us into the metamodern. That is perhaps the seriousness people are seeing in metamodern fiction. It is certainly present in Immolation of an Angel. And I hope you will enjoy the book when you read it.