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Nobody Killed Her is a political psychothriller about two passionate and politically ambitious women, who find themselves as entangled in each other’s lives as they are in the mesh of murky politics.
With a distinctive style that combines courtroom drama with noir, the author crafts a narrative of such fluidity that it is impossible to put it down once you start reading it. Sabyn Javeri’s debut novel, though mostly fictitious, made headlines and garnered interest even prior to its publication, as it bears some veiled similarity to the life and assassination of former Pakistan PM, Benazir Bhutto.
It begins with Rani Shah – a woman thrust into politics via the legacy of her legendary father who led the PPP party – preparing to stage a comeback to the political arena of Pakistan. Her mission – to fight elections through her party’s ticket and overthrow the corrupt regime led by the General. Around this time, an orphaned refugee woman named Nazneen Khan, aka Nazo, approaches Rani Shah, seeking employment. Her entire family had been butchered by the General’s men during the coup and she is eager to support Rani Shah’s cause. Rani Shah takes to Nazo’s tenacity and hires her as a typist.
Soon, Nazo finds herself utterly besotted by the aura and the rebellious ideals that Rani Shah stands for. She looks up to her Madam as the paragon of revolutionary, feminist ideals, the unparalleled leader figure that their country really needs.
Their proximity kindles an inner fire in the heart of Nazo, and she soon becomes more zealous than Rani Shah herself; hell bent as is she to make her Madam’s dream of becoming Prime Minister a reality at any cost. Together, they work day and night to make a blueprint for her comeback.
Madam Shah stood for lofty political ideals such as women’s education, female empowerment, and repealing of an antiquated rape law that asks for a woman to have four witnesses to file a rape case against the offender. But how practical is it for a woman to wield power in a misogynistic society that wants women to be restricted to cooking and breeding? Will she be able to brandish power over menfolk who want to knock her down, or will she see herself turning into a puppet of men?
They soon find that even with the power that comes with the topmost post in the country, there were no takers for a woman’s path-breaking ideas. Implementing her new ideas and making them stay afloat was no mean task – there was turbulence, there was corruption, and then there were certain bosses whose whims even a PM had to yield to.
In addition, Madam Shah had suitors swarming around her, greedy for some reflected glory, and never failing to remind her of her feminine frailty: “You think a woman can govern a country full of Jihadists? Far-fetched, my girl. Not in a million years. First, it will be decades before democracy is restored. Even that will not change the way people think about women…Without a husband, the General’s men will chew you up and spit you out. My dear girl, you need me!”
And what if Nazo’s idolized leader figure gets disillusioned by all this and gives in to society’s notions of domesticity and raising babies? What if Madam Shah decides that she needs a husband to negotiate the heavily male-dominated political terrain of Pakistan? Will that make Nazo pull her idolized leader down the pedestal?
As politics and personal lives collide, the two begin to share an intriguing love-hate bond. Not only do they soon become indispensable to each other, whether in matters of diplomacy or domesticity, the duo also had such good measure of tenderness as well as fiendishness reserved for each other that nothing could stop them from helping or harming one another if they so pleased.
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When the court asks Nazo much later how she knew the deceased leader, she says: “I knew her the way I know God, Your Honour. I worshipped her, believed in her, yet never knew if she was real or an illusion. Perhaps, I had imagined it all…”
It is this intimacy that ultimately gets Nazo under the radar post Madam Shah’s assassination. Owing to her closeness to the PM, Nazo is accused of plotting her murder. The entire novel then plays out with a series of court scenes and flashbacks, where the narrator Nazo tries to piece together her thoughts on the events leading to the assassination of Madam Shah. Is she the murderer? If not, who is? What is the truth?
Interestingly, the novel deploys a second person narrative to tap into the head of an increasingly unreliable narrator. The rather uncommon use of the second person voice doesn’t mar the storytelling in any way, especially when it finally dawns on the reader why the author would choose to do so. With this masterful touch, the author Sabyn Javeri takes the story on the most persuasive path it could possibly traverse, covering all possible angles and leaving no stones unturned in telling a great story.
The courtroom drama ends in a counterfactual that marks a fulfilling finish to this page turner of a novel. The plot is riveting in itself, but it is the manner in which the story has been told makes it even more luminous. It is only so rare that a writer has a sparkling story to tell, and the fact that she manages to tell that story exceptionally well makes this debut novel one-of-a-kind. This novel is very well our subcontinent’s version of Gone Girl, and is most assuredly not going to fade away from readers’ minds or from bestseller lists anytime soon.
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I'm a language editor who enjoys reading literary fiction.
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