Winner of the 2021 Overseas Press Club of America Cornelius Ryan Award
The former New York Times Pakistan bureau chief paints an arresting, up-close portrait of a fractured country.
Declan Walsh is one of the New York Times’s most distinguished international correspondents. His electrifying portrait of Pakistan over a tumultuous decade captures the sweep of this strange, wondrous, and benighted country through the dramatic lives of nine fascinating individuals.
On assignment as the country careened between crises, Walsh traveled from the raucous port of Karachi to the salons of Lahore, and from Baluchistan to the mountains of Waziristan. He met a diverse cast of extraordinary Pakistanis—a chieftain readying for war at his desert fort, a retired spy skulking through the borderlands, and a crusading lawyer risking death for her beliefs, among others. Through these “nine lives” he describes a country on the brink—a place of creeping extremism and political chaos, but also personal bravery and dogged idealism that defy easy stereotypes.
Unbeknownst to Walsh, however, an intelligence agent was tracking him. Written in the aftermath of Walsh’s abrupt deportation, The Nine Lives of Pakistan concludes with an astonishing encounter with that agent, and his revelations about Pakistan’s powerful security state. Intimate and complex, attuned to the centrifugal forces of history, identity, and faith, The Nine Lives of Pakistan offers an unflinching account of life in a precarious, vital country.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
You might think journalist Declan Walsh would be bitter after he was unceremoniously deported from his adopted home of Pakistan in 2013. Instead, he channeled his decade of intensive research about the country into this stunningly in-depth profile of a nation struggling with its own identity. When British India was partitioned into India and Pakistan in 1947, Pakistan’s borders were drawn to reflect extreme religious tensions between Muslims and Hindus, whose conflicts continue to this day. Walsh explores the individual stories behind these clashes, finding the gray area within an intergenerational saga that often casts its own key figures in black and white. Impressively, he also offers expert historical analysis, connecting the dots between Pakistan’s charismatic leaders, fringe extremists, and the innocent people swept away by decades of religious and political strife. If you were moved by Say Nothing, Patrick Radden Keefe’s evenhanded portrait of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, you’ll be fascinated by this story of a troubled and beautiful place.
Journalist Walsh debuts with an immersive and splendidly written portrait of Pakistan based on the nine years he spent in the country reporting for the Guardian and the New York Times. He begins with his 2013 arrest and expulsion from the country for "undesirable activities" (Walsh later came to believe that his reporting on an insurgent movement in Balochistan province got him kicked out), then profiles nine people whose stories provide valuable perspective on Pakistan's volatile politics and "endearing absurdities," as well as its cultural traditions and modern aspirations. Walsh's profile subjects include the "most famous cop in Karachi," Chaudhry Aslam Khan, whose office "had the gleam of a mortuary and the furtive bustle of a mobster's den," and human rights activist Asma Jahangir, a "cast-iron idealist" who "embraced the untouchable and advocated the unthinkable, leading indefatigable campaigns to reform Pakistan's bigoted laws or to protect its most vulnerable minorities." Walsh also probes the history of ISI, Pakistan's fearsome intelligence agency, and interviews one of its best known spies, Colonel Imam, who trained mujahideen fighters in the war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s and was kidnapped by the Taliban in 2010. Rich with incisive historical context, astute cultural analysis, and evocative language, Walsh's account brings Pakistan's contradictions to fascinating life. This masterfully reported account deserves a wide readership.