In Taymour Soomro’s debut novel Other Names for Love, violence lives in every detail. It traces the story of 16-year-old Fahad, whose father takes him from Karachi to their wealthy rural family estate to toughen him up. Once there, Fahad grows close to Ali, the brutish son of his father’s friend. In this tale of queer desire and family duty, violence defines the characters. Although the novel critiques the social hegemonies that are integral to the characters’ lives, it sometimes falls short.

As the story progresses, characters refuse to be archetypes. The father is both a caring provider and violent. The mother, often a source of sympathy to Fahad, is cunning and sometimes distant. Ali is beastly and quiet and attractive. At one point, he slaps a beggar girl to the ground, and Fahad is only mildly fazed. The protagonist is sensitive, but spoiled and unkind. Class boundaries are clear, allowing privileged characters to be cruel. They inflict violence on their subordinates and each other in pursuit of imprecise ideas of power.

Soomro’s voice is straightforward and vivid throughout the novel. He details the sand-swept lands, expansive green farms, villages, and bourgeois houses with palpable feeling. The actions of the characters are faithful to the social worlds of upper-class Pakistanis. Later, the novel shifts: it’s now years later and Fahad has left Pakistan, reluctant to return. He has trouble coming to terms with his memories of the countryside. His mother calls to tell him they are in danger of losing their home and they need Fahad to return to sell the rural estate. Now there are conflicts of duty. His aging father struggles to hold onto the family land and Fahad seeks to do right by his parents to save them from financial ruin.

Soomro questions the location of power: is it land, or money, or family? In the novel, histories of country and family inform the events of the present. The land itself is marked by histories of ownership, betrayal, and hurt. Drama hinges on who inherits the land and who turns against their family as a result.

However, by focusing mainly on Fahad’s internal conflict and power struggles with his father, the novel’s commentary on social class falls short. Even though it critiques the violence committed against working class people, they remain in the background. In one scene, Fahad’s father forces farmers to dam a river to damage another landowner’s crops, an act that starves the farmers. The farmers beg him to save them. Fahad’s father brushes them off and their role in the story ends there. There’s an unresolved tension between the depiction of violence against a class of people and the absence of a conclusion to their stories within the novel. Soomro’s novel is clear that the actions of the feudal landlords are wrong, but the theme of oppression could be more meaningfully developed.

Other Names for Love is a strong work of contemporary queer fiction set amid Pakistan’s hierarchy. With a distinct and complicated voice, it delivers a biting story about the conflicted nature of masculinity, power, and duty. The novel depicts how people betray others, even those they love, for these ideals. But at times it leaves characters beyond Fahad with unsure arcs.

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