A vivid and intricate novel-in-stories, The Scatter Here Is Too Great explores the complicated lives of ordinary people whose fates unexpectedly converge after a deadly bomb blast at the Karachi train station. Elegantly weaving together different voices into a striking portrait of a city and its people, it is a tale as vibrant and varied in its characters, passions, and idiosyncrasies as the city itself. Read this special guest post about the inspiration behind Bilal Tanweer’s The Scatter Here Is Too Great.
Fiction is a deception that leads us to truth. Fiction tricks us into pleasure, pain and awareness by oversimplifications. Life—that vaporous placeholder for everything but which itself is nothing—plays out neither in plotlines nor in three-act structures. In life, we hardly ever experience the epiphanies that fictional characters seem to suffer routinely: the knock out moments that radically alter the course of lives and cause new departures and new affections. In real life we’re quite happy to drift to whatever vague tune is playing inside our heads, responding mildly and sometimes excitedly to situations as they stumble into view.
However, there are some aspects of fiction where distortions are at their minimum—where life and art meld together, as in the case of voice.
Voice works in a remarkably similar manner in fiction as in life. Intuitively, all of us are keenly aware of the volume of information that voice and tone channel to the audience. (Perhaps nobody understands this better than the standup comedians.) For instance, the way somebody speaks—language, diction, choice and arrangement of words, the tone—can immediately tell you about her social and class background. And if one has some inkling about the audience the voice is addressing, it can provide an even richer understanding of the narrator. When one hears a character address two different audiences in remarkably different tones, one can make some really useful judgments about its intentions, motivations, and its ‘character’ by paying attention to what is being emphasized and what is being concealed. There’s an immediacy to voice—an authenticity and wholeness that readers grasp immediately. One could even go as far as saying that voice embodies character.
Sandra Cisneros said what motivated her to write The House on Mango Street was the realization that “none of the books […] in all the years of my education, had ever discussed a house like mine”. A major inspiration for my book was to capture the different voices that I could hear in my head but I had never encountered in fiction. These were voices of people from Karachi, Pakistan, the megacity of over 20 million where I grew up. I wanted to vivify a range of experiences in Karachi without needing to explain them, particularly of how people deal with instances of violence big and small, which defines the experience of living in a city like Karachi. And I felt a web of voices was the most effective way to accomplish this task. But as I wrote, I realized that there weren’t too many stories or films about Karachi even in the local languages. It was an amazing realization that despite being such an enormous city, it remained largely unimagined. And so, like Cisneros, my task then became to imagine a house where all the voices in my head could come to live and tell their stories. Only in my case, the house was an entire city.