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Recommended reading: “Beyond the Fields”

Locations: Columns, Opinion Published

By Gabriel Tamaska
Garfield County Public Libraries 

“Dreams were like fireflies. We had to grasp them. Catch them. Otherwise, they would fly away. And it would be dark again.”

Work is a constant in the lives of Tara and Zara, a pair of twins just turning 16 in Rural Pakistan. They must take care of the cow, clean their tiny home, prepare food and see to the chores that will keep their household going and make them excellent wives. 

Their father tends fields for an unforgiving landlord. Sometimes there is so much work, the whole family must join in to help. Not to mention, the new thugs hired by the landlord are not making life any easier for anyone in the village. 

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While Tara dreams of making her parents proud and a good marriage, Zara dreams of an education and of seeing the world. 

Tara is quiet, proper, polite and beautiful. She is attracted to a boy in town, but he may not be a good enough marriage prospect. 

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Zara is not yet ready to relinquish the freedoms of her childhood; like running through the fields and climbing trees to pick fruit. Instead of doing her chores, she has been studying what her brother, Omar, has been bringing home from school and found she has a sharp mind. 

Life continues and plans for Tara and Zara’s futures are being laid… And then the unthinkable happens.

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With the pressure of village elders and a fear of having their entire family ostracized, their parents rush to marry Tara off to someone who will take her — someone who seems like a good prospect. She is swept away to the city and to her new husband, before Zara even has a chance to see her. Zara’s parents demand she accept it, but Zara fears it may be a scam and launches a daring and dangerous scheme to find her sister — her twin — and save her.

First-time author Aysha Baqir vividly captures a different time in her book and explores life in a country undergoing deep changes. It would be easy to paint one character as a villain and another as the hero, but Baqir does not shy away from the complexities within each person and the relationships they have with one another and their community. Although what happened to Tara is a catalyst for the events of the book which unfold, there is a world of community and family built up before the event occurs. 

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Baqir lets the reader explore the world through the eyes of her main character, Zara, as she navigates the world. She has a vague knowledge of changes happening in Pakistan’s government, but really who has time for that? There is so much work to be done, and it is unseemly for a girl to be interested in that sort of thing anyway. She sees the lack of access to education and the difference one dedicated teacher can make. She has a glimpse of city life in addition to her typical rural surroundings. She witnesses the sometimes harsh brutality of her world, but the peoples’ perseverance and love too. 

All of this is delivered through Baqir’s smooth writing and evocative descriptions. This piece of historical fiction will roll you into its world and wrap you in the fears, hopes, and dreams of its characters. Baqir has truly written an overlooked gem of a book.

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“Recommended Reading” is a new collaboration between The Sopris Sun and the Garfield County Public Libraries District, highlighting important literature available at local libraries.

Tags: #Aysha Baqir #Beyond the Fields #Pakistan #sisters
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