Book Review: The Party Worker

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After the success of The Spinner’s Tale and The Prisoner, Omar Shahid Hamid is back with a gripping novel that talks about Pakistan’s darkest corners with verve and insight. Hamid has been a police officer in Pakistan for sixteen years and is a senior member of the Karachi Police’s Counter Terrorism Department. In 2011, following an attack on his office by the Pakistani Taliban, he took a five year sabbatical to write books. He has been widely quoted and regularly featured in a number of publications including: The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Times, Reuters, CNN and BBC. Hamid currently serves as a Counter Terrorism Officer.

His novel,The Party Worker opensat a brink of chaos as a man is shot at the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. The man is later identified as Asad Haider, the chief hitman for Karachi’s most influential political party called the United Front Party. Hamid identifies Mohammad Ali Pichkari, a.k.a. the Don as the Party leader who rules Karachi with an iron fist, even from his exile in New York and utmost support of the CIA. Hamid describes the Don as someone who’s shorter and portlier in real life. “[His] body, normally dressed in perfectly cut suits, is revealed in all its folds of fat that cascade onto a protruding potbelly. The famed crew cut is gone, replaced by a mop of disheveled hair that struggles to hide a thinning and receding hairline.”But something goes awry within the Party’s internal matters as Don attempts to have his right-hand man assassinated in broad daylight.

The story unfolds in an unpredictable and skillfully written manner. Proving The Party Worker to become a gem of a thriller novel, Hamid recounts the vices of The United Front through the eyes of Asad Haider, who remains paralyzed due to terror and pain from the reality that has shook him.  Asad is the chief hitman of the party, who is far too familiar with the party’s dirty little secrets. He recounts that, “while the United Front is a legitimate political party, it’s pretty evident that they seem to have been involved in a lot of bad shit. They’ve been accused of running a militant wing that was involved in the killings of hundreds of their political opponents, as well as government official and cops over the past twenty years.” According to him, Don doesn’t always order to kill the opponent. But in fact, the party operates on the ideology of striking as widely as possible including family and even friends who would then not be able to raise their hands. “This is how you spread fear in a city of twenty million.” he thinks bitterly, “It’s funny that you never think you will become a victim of your own terror one day.”

While corruption and misdemeanor fuels the party, Ismail – a diligent journalist in the local news paper is on another path tohighlight the flaws in Pakistani news media. Hamid here manages to excel the skill of introducing various characters and make them play their part intelligibly. He makes Ismail the voice of local newspaper whose main aim is to act as a vehicle to push forward the interest of its owner. He believes that “a free press can [also] be a useful weapon. Every time anyone wants to look into your affairs, you smear them with a strategically placed corruption story, or an editorial about the fantastic tendencies of certain NGOs. It’s like having yellow journalism on demand. You can always trade endorsements for support.” Ismail is shown to successfully manipulate Baba Dacait of Lyari into letting him write his autobiography and in turn shelling-out compelling secrets of the underworld that might change power dynamics of the city.

The Party Workerbrilliantlyfollows a parallel narration, unfolding The United Party workers’ ordeal alongside the gripping story of Baba Dacait’s raise to power. Overall, the story fictitiously manages to encapsulate the vices in a city that rings true to home. The book is especially recommended to suspense-readers and political enthusiasts.

The Party Worker
By Omar Shahid Hamid
Price: Rs. 795
Published by: Pan Macmillan India
Available at: Liberty Books

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