A Personal Pakistan
Jonathan Bortlinger '04, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2003
Sara Suleri, writes in her first chapter, "Excellent Things in Women" about the important characteristics of her female relatives. She has a keen eye for the behavior and essence of her grandmother and siblings. Suleri combines personal anecdotes, descriptions of her life in Pakistan, like the smell of "cumin and camphor," and historical narratives. This writing style encompasses many genres, although we are reading it in a course on non-fiction class. For Suleri personal events are tied to historical ones and vice versa.
By this time Bhutto was in prison and awaiting trial, and General Zulu was presiding over the Islamization of Pakistan. But we had no time to notice. My mother was buried at the nerve center of Lahore, an unruly and steady place, and my father immediately made arrangements to buy the plot of land next to her grave: "We're ready when you are," Shahid sang. Her tombstone bore some pretty Urdu poetry and a completely fictitious place of birth, because some details my father tended to forget. "Honestly," it would have moved his wife to say." 
1. Is this chapter primarily autobiographical? How can we characterize this book as a piece of non-fiction writing?
2. Where is the genre of non-fiction writing heading? What can Suleri teach readers about the way contemporary authors approach telling a personal story tied to historical events?
3. How does the tone Suleri use to describe her mother's death compare to that used to describe the life and death of Suleri's grandmother, Dadi? What can we learn about her relationships from the way Suleri describes them? What is the relationships these individuals have to historical events?
4. Is it more personal for Suleri to describe her private feelings about her relatives or for her to discuss her own opinions about Pakistan? What is the significance of the deaths that occur in Pakistan, Dadi's and Ifat's, as compared to Suleri's new life in America?
Last modified 1 December 2003