Review: ‘Other Names for Love’ by Taymour Soomro

Other Names for Love

Other Names for Love sinks into a froth of emotion, whipping the senses and diluting reason. We’re left fighting for grip alongside Fahad, whose physical displacement is only the first step of a haunting emotional dislocation.

The story follows the sixteen-year-old boy’s brief, intense summer in Abad, where his grasp of the volatile surroundings clashes with the unexpected hunger he feels for Ali, the neighbor’s son. The consequences of Fahad’s desire thwart all the years to come.

The novel’s sweltry aura inflames its chaotic setting, darkens the yoke that blends human savagery with the predatory wilderness of upcountry Pakistan. It also exposes the suffocating view of masculinity nurtured within. This compression, when balanced against Fahad’s sensitivity, gains a slinking body of its own.

That’s why, through the boy’s senses, we can feel oppression’s muggy breath on our skin. And, just like Fahad, we struggle to cross the void separating sultry desire from its sated form, the volatile impulse that leaves a fusty aftertaste for the mind to cleanse afterward.

Both Ali’s appearance and the unpredictability of violence that he embodies add to the novel’s tension. What feeds it is the pace, which behaves like a drumbeat steadily gaining momentum; a foreboding rhythm that works the characters’ guts like marionettes. It torments Fahad wherever he goes, whoever he’s with. 

Other Names for Love gains its physicality from Soomro’s writing, which is both poignant and poetic. His focus is glued to the few sharp points of each scene, with the rest only hazily hemming them in. This gives form, texture and taste to Fahad’s dreamlike experience in Abad.

His prose is also impossibly tender as it bares the fragile foundations of all that we yearn for, stripping our desires, pointing to the elongated shadow of the past that’s forever dimming our view of the present. Likewise, the story keeps pulling on knotted relationships, trying to even them out. Caged reflections tear their way through form and expression in an effort to restitch fates.

The hopelessness of this task, weakened by the soul’s yearning for both the body and devotion of another, serves as the pulse of Other Names for Love; one that we keep tracing with our thumbs as we slip deeper into its bloodstream. We’re left searching for answers, indulging the caprices of identity; attempting to cement and name that, which is fluid.

Publication date: July 12, 2022 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

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