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Paradise, Lost

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 ...I have come to understand that not all enclosed spaces are prisons, and that some are for safety: some are sanctuaries"
 
 
What redeems a small place, turning a cell into a place of refuge? Peter Hobbs asks this question in In the Orchard, The Swallows. The book is about enclosed places — a small room where an unnamed man recovers from weakness, a garden in the house of the kind man who rescues him and of course, the orchard, where the memory of love resides. 
 
Hobbs sets the story in Northern Pakistan, a place of fluid borders with Afghanistan, where the swallows wheel over the branches of pomegranate trees.  Swallows that appear as leit-motif, both in prison and in orchard, in sorrow and in love.
 
The main character, a nameless man, sees a girl at a market... “Beside a tray of apricots — I remember because their colour was reflected onto the white silk of your dupatta.” They are two 14-year-olds. He gives her a pomegranate — the first fruit, in Islamic legend. This is another garden of Eden and they are young Adam and Eve. He is thrown out of this paradise when the girls's father, a politically important person, has him thrown in prison to rot for 15 years while undergoing hideous tortures. He survives and the love that led him into darkness ultimately delivers him out of it. 
 
We meet our narrator as he emerges from prison, a broken and disoriented 29-year-old who is nurtured back to health by a former government poet and his young daughter, living near the now-neglected orchards.
 
In The Orchard is an exquisite love story. It is also a cruel story told with infinite gentleness, with the fragrance of a single crushed flower. The central theme of love runs through this short, fable-like novella. Here the love of the boy for the girl Saba, transcends the beloved (interestingly Saba means beloved ) to be one with infinity. It is difficult to find such love these days, a love beyond the broken body. One is reminded of the classic love story of Laila-Majnu. But in an interview to The Star.com, Hobbs said he had never heard about the tale of Laila Majnu before writing this novel. He had wanted this story, a fable of sorts, to be rooted in the natural world; the seasons and the landscape mattered a great deal to him and that's why he had set it in Northern Pakistan, a place that had impressed him a great deal when he had travelled there  15 years ago.
 
Author Peter Hobbs
According to Islam, pomegranates grow in paradise and can be tasted only fleetingly in this life. In the Orchard, leaves a bittersweet taste of paradise for the reader.
 
Peter Hobbs, grew up in Cornwall and Yorkshire, and lived in Canada while writing this book. His debut novel, The Short Day Dying was shortlisted for the Whitebread First Novel award and the John Llewellyn Rhys prize and won a Betty Trask award. 
 
nandini (dot) bw (at) gmail (dot) com