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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The World in my Hands

K. Anis Ahmed

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To purchase The World in my Hands

Title: The World in my Hands
Author: K. Anis Ahmed
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013
Length: 376 pages
Availability: The World in my Hands - US
The World in my Hands - UK
The World in my Hands - Canada
The World in my Hands - India

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Our Assessment:

B : unexceptional, but reasonably well done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Dawn . 11/8/2014 Farhad Mirza
Deccan Herald . 26/1/2014 Monideepa Sahu
Express Tribune . 2/2/2014 Tooba Masood

  From the Reviews:
  • "Ahmed is not a writer of profound truths -- perhaps, that is why his prose seems familiar -- but is an effective satirist of the ordinary. (...) However, he constructs his characters’ obsessions and motivations with taste and humour. (...) The overlapping narratives of race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, culture, and religion are largely ignored for the sake of a simplistic narrative. (...) Where the novel does really well is in exploring the details of how everyone’s domestic lives carry on, while battles of good and bad, and right and wrong, are fought in the streets." - Farhad Mirza, Dawn

  • "A sharp satirist, Ahmed has a sparkling sense of humour. (...) He does this while delving deep into serious issues through a carefully crafted tale woven around well-delineated characters. His observations are funny but apt. (...) The strongest point of this novel is Ahmed’s sense of humour, delighting us in every page while provoking introspection and thought." - Monideepa Sahu, Deccan Herald

  • "The way Ahmed writes makes his rage at the military-backed emergency palpable for the reader -- especially for a South Asian audience. The characters in the book are well-rounded as they grow into themselves and as a reader you learn to fall in love with their flaws. One of the best parts about the book is its pace -- its fast with a lot of unexpected knee-jerking moments." - Tooba Masood, Express Tribune

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The World in my Hands is set in the fictional nation of Pandua, but that is just a thinly-veiled Bangladesh -- down to the geography, Pandua too: "not so much a land mass as it was a vast and transformed water body". Dominated by two parties -- the Patriotic Party of Pandua and the Social Democratic Party -- and the endless feud of their 'Two Leaders', the political situation is also much as it has been in contemporary Bangladesh for many years.
       Ahmed's novel features two friends in important positions: Hissam, "a scion of the capital", from a privileged background, is Deputy Editor of The Daily Panduan -- and, with the actual Editor comatose, in fact the man in charge -- while Kaiser, from the provinces, has become one of the country's leading businessman, a real estate magnate. Hissam is still a bachelor, while Kaiser wound up marrying Natasha, who had known (and been interested in) Hissam first; Kaiser and Natasha have a just-grown son, Simon. Their lives intertwine even more now that Hissam convinced Kaiser to invest in the newspaper, giving Kaiser a seat on the board -- and, Hissam hopes, the vote necessary to finally get him that coveted editorship position. Meanwhile, Hissam has also become politically more active, in a movement -- and then political party -- looking to offer a third way.
       A state of Emergency compounds a sense of possible change in the air -- yet Ahmed shows that deeply ingrained instincts and structures make it hard to see to real change. Hissam tries to maneuver his way on this possible tide of change, trading favors with a Bureau of National Intelligence official and then throwing his lot in with the new regime, even while trying to hedge his bets with his newspaper coverage (not entirely successfully, as the graffiti; 'Daily Pandering - Regime's Lapdog' suggests).
       Corruption is, as always, a target of the powers-that-be -- but one that lends itself to easy abuse.

The laws were so numerous, so dated, it was impossible to conduct the ordinary business of living without becoming guilty. For anyone with ambition, the risks and entrapment was compounded manifold.
       Since everyone is unavoidably guilty of something, proof is easily found, so the key is not to be targeted; Hissam warns Kaiser, and invites him to support the regime to help himself out, but Kaiser is pure business -- and winds up on one of the infamous Lists. His businesses are affected -- but in Pandua that's just another annoyance to deal with. But Kaiser is a bigger fish who can play a useful role by turning on an even bigger fish, and so he can't escape the clutches of those in power, who want him to become a pawn.
       Natasha is the founder of "the first organization in Pandua devoted to aiding street children", but also finds herself in an increasingly politicized environment, as the growing organization is going in directions she doesn't like; she too faces difficulty with her board of directors. Personal feelings also complicate matters -- Hissam and Natasha have remained good friends, but there's a lingering sense of what might have been between them, and Natasha may well be one of the reasons he hasn't settled down yet. Meanwhile, Kaiser, obsessed with work, has been paying less attention to his wife. And then Hissam finally begins a meaningful relationship -- but the American he gets involved with can't stand Natasha.
       The national crisis grows worse, to the extent that even Hissam is ready to leave the country pretty much at a moment's notice, if need be. Ready to commit to his new girlfriend, Duniya, he also finds his relationship with Kaiser and Natasha interfering with that -- even as that relationship, too, has possibly been irreversibly damaged by his actions.
       The World in my Hands is a reasonably engaging story of a situation and conditions much like those in contemporary Bangladesh. The perspective tends to be that of the ultra-privileged -- they all seem to have drivers, for example, and even Kaiser's business troubles don't seem to make the slightest dent in his family's extremely comfortable lifestyle -- but the rabble also are presence. Among the diagnoses on offer for why the country is such a mess is one given by a foreigner who has tried his luck in Pandua but hasn't been nearly as successful as he wishes:
It's the people. You guys hate wealth. You want a little pile for yourselves for the little vacations and weddings, college and medicals and the retirement. The reconditioned car, replaced every ten years. But you don't want real wealth. You don't see the splendour of it, the sheer delight of it. You fear it and make a virtue out of that fear, a cult out if [sic] it.
       Hence also, presumably, Kaiser -- the one with the most ambition, who takes the biggest risks -- is the one who tumbles furthest.
       The biggest weakness of the novel is that it does not focus on one protagonist consequentially enough. Much of the novel seems to be about Hissam, closely following him and his actions -- but at its conclusion we barely know what became of him. Kaiser figures reasonably prominently but remains something of a cipher, explored for a while and then left alone -- even as the action he takes is arguably the most significant. Natasha's doings seem secondary for much of the novel, but it is she who comes to the fore at the end -- not out of nowhere, but still seeming a bit out of place, given how much attention previously had been lavished on Hissam and Kaiser. Seeing the story through with Hissam at its center -- or Natasha more front and center from the beginning -- would have made for a stronger and more cohesive narrative.
       The episodes and overall arc are fairly well done, and there's a good sense of the country and many of the issues. Some of the personal conflicts -- romantic and professional -- feel a bit forced or awkward, but there's enough variety and certainly enough tension to sustain interest.
       The World in my Hands isn't entirely successful in its ambitions, but it's considerably more than just an amateur effort. Ahmed tries to do a great deal, and he does much of it quite well. The result may not be entirely polished or successful, but it's a solid effort.

- M.A.Orthofer, 21 June 2015

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The World in my Hands: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Bangladeshi author K. Anis Ahmed is the publisher of the Dhaka Tribune.

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© 2015-2021 the complete review

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