There were three things about A.K. Asif’s Hell! No Saints in Paradise that attracted my attention. First, the cover. Dark and broody, there was no question that the book was going to be a roller-coaster that explored the possibilities of the existence of Heaven and Hell. Second, the title. With a title such as Hell! No Saints in Paradise, a paradox in itself, it is hard to rein in one’s curiosity. And lastly, the blurb, one that expanded on what the cover led me to believe.
2050, New York.
In the aftermath of a grueling spiritual cleansing quest, Ismael, a Pakistani-American student, enters into an alliance with otherworldly beings who send him on a perilous journey of self-discovery. A non-believer, Ismael must return to Pakistan, now in the grip of a brutal fundamentalist government, and gain the trust of his estranged father, prominent extremist in the Caliphate. To accomplish this, he must pose as a true believer. Will he survive long enough to infiltrate his father’s inner sanctum and complete his mission?
Ismael, thanks to his father’s extremist ideologies, hasn’t spoken to his father in twelve years. Ismael is an atheist living in New York, writing a thesis on the existence of Paradise and Hell. But a series of events leads him towards a mission that seems to have been planned out to save the world as well as to educate Ismael. He is selected for the job and for this, he has to make his estranged father believe that he has returned to his faith. He is sure of himself to the point of being cocky. But will he be able to fulfil the destiny that seems laid out for him?
The part of Hell! No Saints in Paradise that stands out is its beautifully constructed narrative – a fact that is evident from reading the first two pages of the novel. Easy to read and easy to relate to, Hell! No Saints in Paradise does what it sets out to do. It angered me to no end, because of how far fallen even dystopia can become. The mere thought of people deriving glee from the depravities inflicted by them or by those around them while wholeheartedly believing that it is the right thing to do, both chilled and disgusted me. And this is a testimony to how well author A.K. Asif has penned the story. If it can affect one that much…
Another reason why it sent shivers down my spine is that I only recently read a very informative book about the Islamic State called A Ticket to Syria, written by Shirish Thorat. To read Hell! No Saints in Paradise, another story of Islamic extremism shook my mind in unimaginable ways. If the future is going to look anything like this, then God help us!
Hell! No Saints in Paradise is an example of how justice in the hands of men blinded by senseless, nonexistent religious ethics can bring the world to its doom. We have seen religious senselessness, but this novel is a dystopia that we could be well off not even imagining. Until you read this book, you cannot know the extent to which the world can fall, with its obsession with religion. In this war of thoughts, will religion win, or will righteousness win? That’s Hell! No Saints in Paradise for you.
I do have a few complaints with the book, too.
The smallest of my complaints is that despite knowing that it is set in 2050, I have to keep reminding myself that Hell! No Saints in Paradise is a futuristic novel and that anything can happen and everything can be explained. But I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. And when you cannot make this difference, the confusion is what wears you down like a tumbling house of cards.
In the bigger picture, all events in Hell! No Saints in Paradise seem necessary. But when you’re reading the book, you feel that some incidents feel irrelevant and unnecessary to the flow of the story. Either they don’t have to be there, or it shouldn’t take so long to make the point. It could have been so much more concise, with such a relevant topic that it takes up. Even the end of the book could have been more impactful than it currently is. Right now, it seems too easy.
Yet, Hell! No Saints in Paradise does echo something that touches a chord. It makes some powerful points about life, death, the Paradise that humans unyieldingly run after, and the concept of Hell. In such a setup, you think that maybe being set in the future doesn’t help the story at all, but it does. On the whole, Hell! No Saints in Paradise has some chinks, but you can ignore them for a better understanding of what the world would look like if things ran out of control!
My honest rating would be 3 stars out of 5, but I’d give it an extra half star for the beauty in its language.
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
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