Review: The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam

‘Things being as bad as they are,’ the baker had said to the two brothers earlier, ‘this world won’t last for much longer.’ ‘I’ve got worse news for you, Uncle,’ Laal had replied. ‘The world will survive forever, with everything staying exactly as it is now.’

The Golden Legend

Summary and Thoughts

When shots ring out on the Grand Trunk Road, Nargis’s life begins to crumble around her. Her husband, Massud–a fellow architect–is caught in the cross fire and dies before she can confess her greatest secret to him. Now under threat from a powerful military intelligence officer, who demands that she pardon her husband’s American killer, Nargis fears that the truth about her past will soon be exposed. For weeks someone has been broadcasting people’s secrets from the minaret of the local mosque, and, in a country where even the accusation of blasphemy is a currency to be bartered, the mysterious broadcasts have struck fear in Christians and Muslims alike. When the loudspeakers reveal a forbidden romance between a Muslim cleric’s daughter and Nargis’s Christian neighbor, Nargis finds herself trapped in the center of the chaos tearing their community apart.


This was quite a complex, dense story. Rich with political history, religious allegory, and ornate description, The Golden Legend definitely has a lot to say, though unfortunately for me, I was left in the dust by its constant soliloquies. The story follows four main characters – Nargis (a widow with a secret), Helen (a Christian servant girl on the run), Imram (a friend to Nargis and Helen who aids in their escape), and Lily (Helen’s father and a wanted enemy of the government). The reader learns more about their backgrounds, relationships, and the larger political corruption around them as they try to make sense of their own humanity in times of crisis. Though I appreciated the core of Aslam’s narrative, I found it difficult to follow the specific actions and scenes of the story due to the long, long, long, loooooooooong sections of exposition between each character interaction. This meant that I often felt disconnected from the characters, uninterested in any possible tension due to never knowing how or when relationships developed or where characters were in any certain scene (both time and location). While I can definitely understand why others may rate this book highly, for me, the execution of the plot was lacking and I’d only selectively recommend this book to others.

Photo Courtesy of Goodreads

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