“To fall in hell, or soar angelic, you’ll need a pinch of psychedelic.” – Humphrey F. Osmond, English Psychiatrist
A.K Asif’s debut novel Hell! No Saints in Paradise, fully justifies the above quote by the famous English Psychiatrist and inventor of the term, ‘psychedelic.’ Before I share my thoughts on the book, let me candidly accept that I’m a selective reader. I choose books based on four things; the title, cover, blurb and the first page of the book. Not necessarily in that order. I must also admit that I rarely read psychological thrillers or even fantasy. So, when I was approached by Writersmelon to see if I would like to review A.K. Asif’s novel I was in two minds. My first reaction was to decline them. However, the title of the book mentioned in the mail caught my attention and made me curious enough to click on the amazon link of the book. Next, what appealed to my minimalistic sense was the elegant book–cover in black and white. My all-time favourite combination for a cover. It was also clear to me that the cover is designed to nudge/intrigue the reader. An excellent move by whoever worked on it. After reading the book, I find the cover is actually (together with the title) a great visual – synopsis of the story. However, the blurb seemed lackadaisical and might not have been enough to prod me in picking up the book if not for the above mentioned touchpoints. I decided to read and review it.
The story is that of a 30 year old gym–fit and good-looking Pakistani–American guy, Ismail, a non-believer living in New York, 2050. He is busy pursuing an academic thesis which is titled: ‘Paradise and Hell: Metaphors in the making of the Muslim Mind.’ However, Ismail has a troubled past. He ran away from his influential businessman father (and Pakistan) 12 years ago and is reluctant to return to the country of his birth. Also, it is his differences with his strict and orthodox father that made him choose the above mentioned topic for his dissertation.
A chance encounter with a woman named Petra – a psychoanalyst in-the-making at a Cannabis café that he frequents, gets him interested in experiencing the spirit world himself. He enrols himself for an Ahayusca ceremony to seek the truth about the next world. Once there, in a drugged state he encounters a mystical figure, Prophet Khidr who leaves him with a heightened sense of curiosity about Paradise and Hell and wondering whether they are more than just a work of his imagination. From there on Ismail embarks on a bizarre and dangerous journey to Pakistan, guided by the mystical beings to win over the trust of his estranged father; which is crucial to get into the inner sanctum of Khalifa – a blood thirsty and cruel fundamentalist who controls the land. As soon as Ismail lands in Lahore posing as a true believer he gets a feeling that ‘something very bad has happened to this country and its people.’ Clueless, bewildered, repulsed and in a constant state of panic he somehow manages to stay alive. It is only when he meets Pir Pul Sirat; the head of the Resistance Movement against the Khalifa and Prophet Khidr – his friends from the spiritual world that he slowly starts understanding things. He also taps into his own inner potential and is able to expertly use it to move forward in his mission. Yet, his path is strewn with outrageous and unpredictable challenges before he can gain the trust of his father and get into the inner-circle of the evil Khalifa. Will Ismail’s father accept him? Will Ismail manage to complete his mission? And most of all, do Paradise and Hell exist? One has to read the book to be enlightened about the above questions.
As for me I loved the book for three things: Firstly, for the fantastic storytelling. The opening lines sucked me into the book right from the word ‘go.’ It’s a lengthy book (with 347 pages) but the narrative is easy to follow and highly engaging and the language is unconstrained and simple. However, the story, at places, is marred by too much violence, gory descriptions and focusing on men’s unquenchable desire for sexual pleasure – and although that was perhaps the need of the plot to carry to story forward, certain portions of the book may displease some readers. Especially women. The opening lines of the book –
“I met Petra on a Friday night in late October 2050. I met her in Grasshopper a candlelit cannabis café in the West Village.”
Secondly, on one hand, the fantastical elements of the story stimulates the imagination while on the other, it raises some pertinent and disturbing real – life questions about religious fundamentalism and fanaticism. The author also condemns the declining moral status of humans as is clear from the lines below –
“One pack of wolves doesn’t punish, persecute or kill another pack of wolves because they eat a different meat. Or have a different colour of fur.”
And lastly, for the simple, deep and meaningful quotes liberally sprinkled throughout the book. A couple of my favourites from the book are –
“Life arranges things according to one’s intention, capacity and performance.”
“It’s all within. The whole Cosmos!”
I’m happy to have this book on my shelf!
Reviewed by: Sujata Parashar
A best-selling novelist, poet, short-story writer and psychosocial trainer. She has written seven books so far. Her debut novel, In Pursuit of Infidelity (Rupa and co, 2009) was a bestseller. She also has a poetry book series titled, Poetry Out and Loud (Authors Press, 2014) and a collection of short – stories, titled, That Woman You See (Alchemy, 2015) to her credit. Her next is a political thriller to be published in early 2018. She has won awards for her first poetry book and her first short – story.
Author(s): A K Asif
Publisher: Harper Collins
Release: August 2017
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