Season of the rainbirds

by Nadeem Aslam

Read time: about 5 minutes

Nadeem Aslam’s debut novel, ‘season of the rainbirds’ is a narrative set in a small town in Pakistan. Touching upon the lives of the inhabitants and the turn of events due to certain unexpected incidents, this book brings to fore human responses and behavior in the most natural and unpretentious manner.


Season of the rainbirds is adorned in a bright & chirpy yellow- green cover, probably depicting the monsoon of the 1980’s of this small town in Pakistan which is where the story is set. With caged birds, which might signify how people, more so women were bound by the societal norms and hypocrisy and the raven bearing the letter also throws light on the plot of the story.

Published the first time on January, 1st, 1993, this book has mostly been published with this cover page. The clever portrayal of the undertone of the novel is worthy of mention.


The number of characters in the book can be a long list to mention here as the story revolves around the entire town. In order to make it simple for the readers, the writer has enclosed a list of the recurring characters who tie the story together.

Maulana Hafeez, one of the clerics in the town, Azhar –the deputy commissioner, and his Mistress from a different faith, Mujeeb Ali- the landlord, Mr. Kasmi, the retired school teacher and the deceased Judge Anwar hold the plot together and elevate it, making it an interesting read.


Set in a small town in Pakistan in the 1980s, this book has won The Betty Trask Award & The Author’s Club First Novel Award. This story brings to its readers the life of the residents of this town. With the murder of an influential resident and the mysterious reappearance of a sack of undelivered letters after 19 years, the lives of most residents is altered for good.

With the town already caught off-guard by the murder, the reappearance of the letters sets in motion an undercurrent of insecurity and concern that is heightened by the assassination attempt of the President ruffling up this quiet little town.

Portraying the simple minds of the poorer folk, the conception of religion & societal hierarchy and their lack of questioning these, bringing to fore the need for power and control of the influential, Season of the rainbirds touches upon the raw realities that exist in our society and are relevant even today.

With these events brewing at a more intimate level, a larger conspiracy is hinted at as the President is assassinated and the rigorous investigation of that digs out a lot of buried scandals.


Simple narrative is adopted and considering the number of characters involved in the novel, this simplicity is an added incentive. A few words from the local language are woven into the script adding an intimate touch to the writing.

The book also comes with a translation of the words used from Urdu and Arabic for the benefit of readers who aren’t well versed with these languages.

Good points

The book touches upon the topics and emotions that one can relate to on a very intimate level. It is interesting to note how the author has very subtly infused the story with social stigmas and notions that make readers retrospect on the same without hurting the religious sentiments of anyone in particular.

It cleverly portrays the simple lives and thoughts process of the people and at the same time, the complex weave of the society and hypocrisy is clearly shown.

Bad points

Going by the brief that raises a sense of intrigue about the turn of events after the discovery of letters is a little underplayed. Building up to an impending climax, the pages turn rather quickly only to reach the end already while one still wonders about the dramatic climax one was hoping for.

It is also a little unsettling to note that the brief hints at the discovery of letters, murder of the Judge and the assassination to be co-related, only to find at the end that the connection is neither clearly explained nor does it leave the reader with a sense of mystery. It almost comes off as just being contemporary and fragmented events documented together.


As a debut novel, Season of the rainbirds is commendable for its subtlety. Touching upon sensitive topics, without coming off as offensive is one of the most significant qualities that books like this often demand and the writer has rightfully obligated without compromising on the essence of the story.

Though set in the 1980s it would be surprising that the distribution of the power, the societal taboos that existed then are relatable event toady, as they still linger in our society.

Quotable Quotes

The deeds of others are not our concern. We must dedicate our lives to the pursuit of moral & religious excellence.

He turned to Alice & said, ‘The woman we had before you used to say on hearing about someone’s death, What is there to a human being? Nothing but illusions.’

“After Father left, mother told her dreams. She seemed to fall through a hole, and continued to fall for such a long time that , above her head, the rim of the hole disappeared … Nothing but darkness, and yet she kept falling..”

Yusuf Rao looked up sharply .His glance conveyed the tension and anger he was feeling as the rope attached to a mighty sail conveys at a touch the power of the distending wind. ‘Typical. The deed’s done and , even though we don’t approve let’s not waste time thinking about it , analyzing it .A girl’s clothes are torn off in the street , so what ? No need to think about how or why it happened . Let’s just talk about it as though it’s the most natural thing in the world . That’s your policy . That’s this whole harami country’s policy.

Some of us don’t have time to think. We’re too busy trying to get through the day with our hides intact. We don’t have time to analyze.

Gazala Amreen

Logophile, bibliophile, writer, designer, high on wanderlust and all things pretty.

Bangalore, KA