Literature has long been a way into global cultures. A step into a world far away that we may never have known of if it weren’t for books. But lately, it’s also begun to provide new insights into the world we thought we knew. Identity can often be such a difficult thing to talk about. Where one fits into the world and what their place is can often be hard enough without worrying about how it relates to the rest of the people around us and their own struggles that often intersect with our journeys. I’ve recently made it a point to read more Pakistani literature, and make an effort to find it because it sees so little support in our own society and it’s been an eye opening experience. The world I thought I knew has become available to me through a new lens entirely and the stories that are out there have made me question so much. We, as a society often work around a mindset that forces us to shy away from criticism because of this pressure to put out a ‘good image’ of Pakistan to the world, but amidst all the same state approved narratives to thrown about and the same old stories, there comes a book that jolts you out of your stupor and reminds you of the right way to have what seem like difficult conversations. No Honour by Awais Khan is one of those books. A story revolving around the ways in which the brutal practice of honour killings destroy far more lives than simply the one they unjustly take from this world, Khan paints a picture of Lahore that exists beneath the shadows, and lures in only the most vulnerable.
Following young Abida, and her fight for survival as she is forced to leave her family behind and her father Jamil who veers between what he is told means to be a man and what he really aims to be - No Honour follows these two lives in a haunting journey of imprisonment, striving for freedom and finding out the lengths people go to, to keep their honour intact. While the entire book is beautifully written, it is Jamil’s character that stands out to me the most. Maybe because throughout the book he battles past and present - starting from his childhood which we see in flashbacks, where he is torn between his very progressive parents and their relationship, versus a whole world that tells him being a man is synonymous with beating your wife. It is these clashing teachings that stay with Jamil throughout his life, pulling him this way and that until his daughter's life is on the line. Abida’s own journey is heartbreaking as we see all that she has to go through because she made the decision to love, and now bears the very real consequences it rains down upon her head. She is forced to grow up far too fast in a world that is very cruel to vulnerable women. While the cruelty remains constant, Khan shows us its different sides in the different characters he introduces into Abida’s life. As with his previous novel, Khan’s writing stands out because women in the novel are independent characters and not only existing in their links to men. Here too, the women Abida encounters in the different stages of her life are equally important in shaping her experiences - both good and bad.
Despite the very difficult story he is telling, Khan is a writer who manages to bring in hope even in the moments most filled with despair. In the midst of the emotional and physical torture that Abida, Jamil and their loved ones go through, Khan manages to remind us that where good exists in even the smallest amounts so does hope. No Honour is a very difficult read mostly because the stories it tells are very real and are as much part of the news as they are of fiction. But that’s also what makes it such a brilliant read as well. We can all learn from the difficult conversations we need to have but often avoid - and No Honour forces us to have that conversation. A conversation that talks about what happens after the honour killing verdict is so casually passed by jirga and patriarchal family members and that focuses on the threads of life it rips apart even while breath still escapes their lips. It stops turning honour killings into statistics and reminds us of the very human lives behind the news headlines. No Honour is available in ebook, and for pre-order in Pakistan at Liberty Books. Awais Khan can be reached on his Instagram or through his organisation, The Writing Institute.