Memory and Cultural Identity: Negotiating Modernity in Nadeem Aslam’s Maps for Lost Lovers

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Author: David Waterman
Editor: Lawrence J. Trudeau
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 7,719 words

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[(essay date 2010) In the following essay, Waterman places the “cultural trauma” experienced by the characters of Maps for Lost Lovers in the context of the first-generation immigrants’ memories of dislocation and some of the characters’ need to cling to a traditional vision of Islam. Waterman contrasts these feelings with the willingness of such characters as Shamas and Charag to question aspects of Islam without abandoning it.]

In the face of cultural trauma and the sense of loss it entails, community cohesion and identity are preserved not so much by remembering as by re-membering, literally using first-generation memories to reconstitute the community, often elsewhere. In Nadeem Aslam’s novel Maps for Lost Lovers (2004), “elsewhere” is Britain. Although these Pakistani immigrants have already suffered their first cultural trauma during Partition, a traumatic event which they perhaps share with all Pakistanis, exile further compounds their sentiment of vulnerability on leaving the familiarity of the subcontinent, highlighted early in the novel by their loss of the fifth season, the monsoon (5). While Arjun Appadurai rightly suggests that such deterritorialization “is now at the core of a variety of global fundamentalisms” (38), Lukas Werth nevertheless warns against applying categories from one culture to another without taking the specific context into account, saying: “The dominant lines along which the perception of reality in Pakistan is organized, and which formulate directions for the dreams, the ideals, and the lines of development of the society, follow patterns which have to he inspected in their own right” (143).

While on one level Maps for Lost Lovers is a “clash of civilizations” novel, in Samuel Huntington’s sense, there is nevertheless a cross-examination of concepts such as traditional and modern which comes to the surface in the wake of rapid social change and the ensuing feeling of cultural vulnerability, especially within a diaspora. Referring to Hasan al-Banna, founder of the Society of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt in 1928, Friedeman Büttner explains:

al-Banna wanted a modernization of society that combined scientific technical progress according to Western patterns with a basic ethical revival from within Islamic tradition […] an Islamic state in which all social areas were regulated by the spirit if not the letter of the Qur’an. If, at the same time, the West was strongly rejected, this did not refer to all modernizing incentives coming from the West. Rather, the rejection referred—similar to the Protestant fundamentalists—to the structures and values that accompanied them.(66)In other words, the implied antagonism between traditional Islamic values and contemporary Western culture, while indeed present in some cases, cannot always explain the multifaceted relations between British and Pakistani ways of life, especially when we recall that Pakistan does possess modern institutions and habits, such as a nation-state, market economy and industry, transportation, (irregular) democratic elections and modern means of communicating and disseminating information (Werth 149, 162). It is precisely this “contact zone”—Nadia Butt uses the term to denote “the space of cultural plurality in today’s transcultural world” (155)—among and between cultures which Aslam probes in...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100123384