The Wish Maker by Ali Sethi: A Review


Book #2 of 2021. This year I aim to read 60 books. This was one of them. Be sure to check out my Goodreads.


I originally came across The Wish Maker after a google search:

novels set in pakistan

Something about the name Ali Sethi rung a bell but I couldn’t quite remember where I heard the name from. This inevitably led to another google search:

ali sethi

And as it turns out, Sethi is a Pakistani singer, and I had already listened to few tracks on which he is featured (most notably Coke Studio’s Aaqa). In fact, I had first heard Sethi’s voice years back when I watched The Reluctant Fundamentalist (I recommend both the novel and movie adaptation) which features his singing debut. I just didn’t know it was him. And so with a feeling of familial attachment akin to one you’d have for a very distant cousin, I decided to take a chance and pick up a copy.

The Wish Maker follows the story of a young man named Zaki Shirazi, who has returned home to Pakistan after studying abroad in America for a few years. The novel picks up with him arriving in Lahore for his cousin Samar’s wedding. It then branches off as Zaki, the narrator, recounts tales from his childhood set amidst the backdrop of Pakistan’s political history.

As the story progresses, you begin to learn more and more about the Shirazi family history as told through the lives of its female characters. I found Daadi’s childhood an incredibly heart-wrenching story of loss at the hands of cultural and political forces as well as her own. However, my favourite character has to be Zakia (Zaki’s mother). Her back and forth dynamic with young Zaki is both entertaining and heart-warming.

Sethi puts together a tapestry of the Shirazi family’s history that paints an enlightening picture of what life is like for Pakistan’s middle class. You can tell when reading that Sethi draws a lot of inspiration from his own life with the level of familiarity with which he writes. In many ways, the novel feels like an autobiography, the characters feel real, and the setting feels like home.

Because of this level of familiarity, non-Pakistanis (and maybe even Pakistani diaspora) may have difficulty grasping with the narrative. Sethi doesn’t go off on long-winded explanations to make his story accessible to those outside the country. Instead, Sethi has written a Pakistani novel for Pakistani readers. Most of its references are for a Pakistani audience – I’m sure that even I didn’t pick up on a few. Perhaps because of this reason, the book seems to have received relatively poor reviews on Goodreads; Pakistanis seem to love it while non-Pakistanis seem to be lost and confused.

In conclusion, I recommend this book to anyone familiar with Pakistan. For me personally, the novel brought to life some of Pakistan’s most tumultuous times. The history that I’ve studied in other non-fiction books finally begins to feel real.

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