Book Review: Goodbye Freddie Mercury

The title of the book is hardly an indication of what this book is about. Title is merely symbolic of love that one of the two key protagonists has for music. It does hint at how the book ends though.


Book opens with a reference to an honor killing like that of Qandeel Balooch’s – while it does set the cultural backdrop it really has nothing to do with the story. Story is set in a Lahore summer when it is burning hot. It is set in upper echelons of Pakistani political society and revolves around the lives of privileged 20-somethings, progeny of some influential and rich politicians or army men. Their lifestyles, funded by their fathers, are essentially a series of unending drug-fueled parties followed by sex.

The story is narrated from the viewpoints of the two of the saner protagonists whose different worlds overlap with each other for a bit.

Bugsy is son of an influential Brigadier and is friends with Omer, son of Iftikar Ali, right hand to current PM Salim Chaudhry. Bugsy is an RJ in a local radio station and predictably keeps getting asked when is he getting a real job. Not that he needs to work. Since he is a rock aficionado, obviously story, whenever told from his viewpoint, is peppered with music references. (It is in one of these references Bugsy says Freddie Mercury was born to ‘dal-eating, finger-flicking desi parents just like yours and mine’.)

Nida, a grieving middle-class girl wanders into this circle as Omer’s, son of an influential person in current Pakistani government, erstwhile girlfriends. She is introduced as ‘girlfriend of the hour’ who is bound to be replaced by a more latest flavor. However, every boy in the book tells us Nida is not like others and she is very cool. (Only way I can tell that the boys think she is cool must be because of how she looks? Not sure how she distinguishes herself from other Omer’s past girlfriends though.) Nida’s perspective is also that is of an outsider to this privileged circle. Her boyfriend has a way of treating her like an inane plaything who he keeps calling fatuous nicknames and it is her inner monologue that makes her perspective slightly interesting. However, I wish there was more of her inner world.

Pakistan is riding on an anti-corruption wave fanned by new rising star of politics, Mian Tariq or MT. So much that one of the cynical, youngish characters in the book comments: ‘If we don’t have hope, if we don’t at least want a better nation, then what’s the point of being here at all? We might as well all be Indian or Persian or Saudi Arabian’.  Soon this ‘hope for better nation’ serves as a key plot point in story of the two protagonists.

Language  by Pakistani-American writer Nadia Akbar is peppered with Pakistani-Punjabi words including gaalis and pejorative slangs such as paindu. It is reflective of conversation of how young in Lahore speak. Or, a North-Indian will speak. Writing is good with enough details to let you visualize the scene and a writing style that makes reading very easy. I was very hooked into story of these two protagonists and I looked forward to seeing it end with hope. However, it is the climax where the book peters out. Much pain has been taken to craft the story with details, but the end is very rushed making it feel slightly dissatisfying.

Yet for the sheer pleasure of enjoying the writing about how rich, Lahori society works (reminded me lot of Moni Mohsin’s The Diary of a Social Butterfly minus the USP tone), I would recommend reading this book.

Lastly, a shout out to Samya Arif for the bright cover illustration and Devangana Dash for the cover design. I love it! 😊

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book in lieu for writing an honest review.

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Visceral Observations is written by Poonam Sharma. It is licensed to her under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License
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