June, 2022 - Between Clay and Dust by Musharraf Ali Farooqi
Book Group 2

Shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize, Between Clay and Dust is a moving and beautifully told story of a wrestling champion and a courtesan with a prestigious past struggling to hold onto the world they once knew amidst the eruptions of history in the aftermath of Partition between India and Pakistan.  Both living in a small city in Pakistan, both coming to terms with the slow decay of their power. Their urban environment is reflective of their lives: both are crumbling.

In a ruined city after the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan in 1947, Ustad Ramzi an aged wrestler who’s struggling with the passing down of his title to his brother, is still famed as a wrestler of unparalleled strength and technique. But now Ramzi’s power—if not his indomitable will—is on the wane. Particularly captivating is the relationship between Ustad Ramzi and his younger brother and protegé, Tamami.  Ustad Ramzi, is a patriarch who evokes both our sympathy and our discomfort. The courtesan Gohar Jan, once celebrated throughout the country for her beauty and the seductive power of her singing, is now out of tune with her new surroundings. In this novel, Musharraf Ali Farooqi weaves together the stories of these two characters in the twilight of their lives as their world crumbles around them. Musharraf Ali Farooqi creates characters so compelling that the reader feels the weight of the struggles and decisions they face.  in their brief encounter.

Part of what makes his characters so relatable is his omniscient descriptions of their inner thoughts and debates as they consider their own motives and desires. An intriguing dynamic is created between these two characters as they negotiate conflicting desires and their own personal flaws. Ustad Ramzi and Gohar find comfort in each other, and resent the passage of time, but in this narrative, personal happiness proves too lofty a goal. Ustad Ramzi’s physical vulnerability is palpable while Gohar’s mental resolve shows signs of the heroic. There’s timelessness, sorrow, and so much emotional delicacy in their brief encounter.


This book is an account of love, honour, betrayal, and the ways in which we wrestle with history. This is a stirring novel of a few individuals fighting to make their way in a world shifting beneath their feet. This book can come across as quite depressing to some, because not a lot of positive things happen in it. However, the novel is so short and precise that you don’t come away from it feeling unhappy.


The authors spare prose, his deliberate understatedness makes his work as much about what it doesn’t say as what it does. The simplicity of sentences combined with the complexity of the characters makes this a beautiful read.

"This is a quietly affecting book, with a profound understanding of tragedy: that what happens to us is as much a function of how we respond to events as the events themselves."


The Book group rated the book 8/10.


Nabila Ahmad