Monday, October 31, 2011

Instant City by Steve Inskeep

Instant City: Life and Death In Karachi by Steve Inskeep
304 pages
Published October 2011 by Penguin Group
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

On December 28, 2009 a bomb blew up on the streets of Karachi, Pakistan as Shia Muslims marched in their annual Ashura procession marking the death long ago of the Prophet Mohammed's grandson, Hussein.  Who placed the bomb? Who set the fires that destroyed blocks of nearby buildings the same day? In most cities, this would be a day that would long be remembered for its violence. For Karachi, it has almost become par for the course.

Inskeep uses the events of this day to look at the larger problem that is the instability in the country of Pakistan, most visibly in Karachi, which Inskeep calls an "instant city." He defines "instant city" as "a metropolitan area that's grown since 1945 at a substantially higher rate than the population of the country in which it belongs." According to conservative estimates, Karachi has grown at least 30 times larger than it was in 1945, most of the grow occurring in the weeks following the partition of India into two countries, India and Pakistan.

Using December 28, 2009 as a way of exploring the greater problems plaguing Karachi and Pakistant, Inskeep introduces his readers to a number of people, past and present, those who influenced Pakistan as it grew following Partition and those who were present the day of the bombing. Historically Inskeep looks at the divide between the sects of Islam, the friction between India's majority Hindu population and Pakistan's majority Muslim population, and the rifts between ethnicities and classes.

When I was approached about this book, I jumped at the chance primarily because I so enjoy listening to Steve Inskeep on NPR. The fact that it deals with a part of the world that fascinates me and that it fits with my goal of reading more non-fiction this year sealed the deal. Inskeep does not disappoint. By using the one event to tie all of issues that plague Karachi together and by introducing so many people involved that day, Inskeep has developed this work of non-fiction into something resembling a mystery that pulls the reader through the book in search of answers. In his debut novel, Inskeep exhibits the same mix of journalism and storytelling that I appreciate in this radio work. In his skilled hands, Karachi comes alive.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour! For more thoughts on this book, check out the full tour.

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