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Review: The One Hundred

The One Hundred  by Zia Ahmad

Reviewed by Megan Renehan

I’m really, really into details.  They can make or break a book for me.  All the action in the world can’t make up for the lack of those one or two incredible phrases that so perfectly describe a character, a place, a situation that I can see it clearly, exactly as the author intended.  The One Hundred is filled with those details, details that infuse this story with humanity and pathos, and plumb the depths of hope, sadness, loyalty, and fear. 

This novel offers us an intimate view of Javed Iqbal’s real-life crimes and their repercussions.  A rock in a pond, Iqbal’s horrifying murder and disposal of 100 young boys in Pakistan in the late 1990s ripples outwards, connecting the novel’s three main characters in layered rings of tragedy.  Yosef, Saif, and Jogi are all street children who have suffered loss at the hands of Iqbal and end up on a quest for vengeance.  We get to know these boys over the course of the novel, which alternates focus between the characters.  We learn of the horrors and difficulties facing street children in Pakistan.  Ahmad succinctly summarizes the atrocities Yosef was forced to deal with as a child:

On a cold January morning the following year, Yosef sat at a bench outside the bus station, waiting for the bus to arrive. It had been over six months since he stabbed Karim. That day, Mullah Aziz had told him the truth about his parents. He shook his head as the mullah had described how Yosef’s mother was raped in prison by a prison guard. The guard, a married man and his father, contacted Mullah Aziz to come take Yosef away when he turned seven. His mother, Mullah Aziz said, was to be tried as an adulterer in addition to her previous pending charges, since there were no witnesses to come forward and support her claim of rape. 

Though the boys’ circumstances push them into deplorable acts, by making us privy to their stories, Ahmad ensures the reader’s sympathy.  He counteracts the effects the boys’ behavior would normally have on the reader by showing us their souls. 

Jogi had rescued the boy from Meera. That night he founded his own gang, consisting of the one boy he had just rescued. Both gangs avoided interaction by not mingling or intruding into each other’s territory. One thing Meera’s gang was known for was the rampant use of drugs. He encouraged and provided hashish, ganja, and glue to his group. At the end of each day he and his friends gathered in small, unnoticed alleys and shared yellow paper bags of sniffing glue. Jogi, on the other hand, prohibited the use of any kind of drugs among his gang. Occasionally one of them would be tempted to try a free sample offered by one of Meera’s boys, but would be intercepted by Jogi just in time before they were addicted to it. 

“Look at yourself!” Jogi had growled at Kamal, one of the boys he had found last summer intoxicated in the park. “You don’t think life is rough enough for you?”

Any novel that can teach me something is one that I fall for.  Ahmad’s ability to so thoroughly describe the lives of the characters in The One Hundred makes for an incredible reading experience.  Immediately upon beginning this book, the reader is transported to a world we are quite likely unfamiliar with, a world of homelessness and poverty, survival and fear.  Ahmad doesn’t hide from the corruption street children must grapple with in order to survive, the trauma they face on a daily basis.  We are guided through a world that would make a satisfying story on its own, but Ahmad ups the ante by centering his tale on Iqbal’s mass murder.  We can’t help but continue reading. 

Ahmad is not only successful, but masterful in weaving a story that seamlessly blends truth and fiction into an emotional, exciting, evocative novel that is as impossible to forget as it is to put down once you’ve opened it.

Ahmad undertook a daunting task with The One Hundred.  Basing a novel on a true story requires intense imagination and an almost journalistic ability to stay true to the facts.  Ahmad is not only successful, but masterful in weaving a story that seamlessly blends truth and fiction into an emotional, exciting, evocative novel that is as impossible to forget as it is to put down once you’ve opened it.

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