The last of The Islam Quintet is quite a change from the others. It’s set in contemporary Pakistan, London, and DC, and the narrator this time around is Tariq Ail himself, or his fictional doppelganger. The history is that of Chinese muslims in Yunnan, and their forced migration to Vietnam, Burma, and Pakistan; but the main story is that of the narrator and his friends from adolescence, now, at the time of the novel, elderly.
The central character is an iconoclast named Plato, about 10 years older than the narrator, an immensely intelligent and capable man who generally shuns the limelight and who is cynical through and through. Though the narrator loses touch with Plato for many years, it seems that Plato is never far from his thoughts, perhaps because he was the glue that bound together the narrator’s circle of friends. Plato makes a kind of grand statement at the end of the novel that probably sums up Tariq Ali’s views about Pakistan and the US empire.
So overall I found this novel interesting mostly as an expression of Ali’s historical and politcal views. The various subplots, mostly related in some way to the narrator’s extended family, are interesting enough, but seem to be mostly a sort of scaffolding for the political aspects of the book. That was fine with me. It was interesting to learn that Pakstan was a far more secular place in the 40s and 50s than it has become. I suspect that part of Ali’s aim in this 5 novel cycle was to show that the intolerance and anti-intellectualism of contemporary Islamic fundamentalism is a recent aberration; and “recent” means just the past three decades. In that, I think he succeeded.