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Women's History Month

Women’s History Month Spotlight and Book Review: Khadija Mastoor’s آنگن‎ [Aangan]

Do you like to own/collect the same book in multiple languages?

Salaam, lovelies! Welcome back to Women’s History Month Spotlight. Today’s author is the legendary Khadija Mastoor , an acclaimed Urdu novelist and short story writer. Born in Bareilly, India, she began writing short stories at the young age of 15 and never stopped. She is said to have migrated  to Lahore, Pakistan after the Partition and settled there with her family.

I’ll confess, I haven’t read much of this author. My introduction to her works was through her most acclaimed novel آنگن‎ [Aangan | Courtyard] and thus, this post will be mostly be a book review. Aangan on of those books I remembered skimming through in my early teenage years and having little to no memory of its content in the present. Recently, though, the novel was adapted into a popular television drama which compelled me to pick it up again. Let’s just say I’m glad I did.

What to say about this book that hasn’t been said before? It’s quiet well-deserving of it’s title as one of the literary masterpieces of Urdu literature. Spanning a story of a family’s three generations both Pre and Post-Partition, this novel moves back and forth through time at its leisure and is filled with characters that somehow manage to encompass all ages and faces of life. It’s the most annoying character you’ll love the most,  the most loathsome you’ll end up most empathizing with. It’s rather aptly titled as the courtyard because the architecture of the family home appears to be littered with unhappy marriage and broken hearts, withered dreams and silenced anguish, and even death and disappearances.

And stitching this entire scattered mess of a plot is the gently, beguiling sorrow.

The sorrow in this book like dipping your hand in a flowing river, its current ever present like the weather. And the residue clings to your skin even after you’ve stepped away. Written in 1962, this book is rather ahead of its time, given the conclusion of the narrative character Aalia. And yet, its so intimately rooted in its time and geography. Colonized mindset and misogyny, internal and external, are never openly discussed yet rampantly present. The divides of language, religion, sect and class portrayed without preaching, shown without being named.

It makes you ask questions, this book.

  • Is the feeling of happiness found or felt first?
  • A love that can neither be had nor held, can one call it love?
  • Does a vice become a virtue just because it feels right and you wanted it too much?
  • Most importantly, are the lines that divide us deeper or narrower than the ones that bind us together?

The over all impact of this story on me was so loud and violent that I was compelled to reread its English translation if only just to gauge the difference. While the Urdu version remains my favorite – I’m biased and yes, I know it – the English translation by Daisy Rockwell is remarkably well-done and I’d urge everybody to pick it up. Her translation of the title Aangan into The Women’s Courtyard instead of just “courtyard” was a very valid decision, I feel, because the story is largely told within that private inner sanctum of a typical South Asian household known as the زنا نخانہ [zanaankhana | gynaeceum].

If you haven’t read this book, I hope this review will make you pick up a copy. It’s been translated into 13 languages and I hope it enchants you as much as it did me.


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