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The River, The Town

A novel by

A poignant and powerful first novel following the breakup of a Pakistani family in the face of climate disaster, and their indefatigable search for stability, love, and belonging.

In the rural town in Pakistan where Baadal grows up, children are named like talismans to sustain life and ward off unhappiness. At seventeen, Baadal has come to understand why his parents gave him that name, with hopes that their Big River will one day flow wide again, and their thirst will be quenched after years of drought. But in the final year of his schooling, abundance seems impossibly far away. As his parents’ marriage—full of rage, despair, and often violence—reaches a breaking point, the only comfort Baadal can afford is a budding kinship with Meena, a divorced older woman he meets on the banks of the drying river.

Meena has only just escaped her abusive husband, but her resistance to remarry soon gives way to the promise of stability and companionship that Baadal offers. Together, they leave the Town in search of greater fortunes in the City. But even strong-willed, independent Meena finds herself bowed by the strain of Badaal’s punishing work schedule, her struggling beauty parlor, and the tension with Baadal’s mother, Raheela, who fights for control of her son as she seeks to leave behind a life of disappointments and discover a freedom she’s never known.

Told in rotating perspectives spanning from 1966 to 1998, THE RIVER, THE TOWN is an intimate portrait of a family unraveling in the throes of indigence, and a tribute to the wounded love that keeps them tethered to each other. With stark and candid prose, Farah Ali traces one family’s fortunes to illuminate the relentless cycle of inequity, juxtaposing the tragic and grueling realities of poverty with the enduring struggle for compassion and humanity.

Genre: Literary Fiction

Praise for this book

"The story of urbanization, the divide between urban and rural, the burning desire to trade the province for the metropolis, is at the heart of modern South Asia. Farah Ali takes this story and turns it into a tremendously personal tale of a single family. The stench of poverty that Farah's characters carry on themselves is its own animal, sharing space on every page. Farah has expertly crafted characters whose lives are overrun by economic struggle and climate change, sketching them in with electrifying details, unwavering compassion, and impressive clarity. There is none of the romanticization of struggle, no simplification of precarity, that so often makes its way into South Asian English-language fiction. The prose is stark and unadorned, but it has burned itself on my mind, and will do so with other lucky readers as well. This book is a marvelous achievement." - Dur e Aziz Amna

"The River, The Town shimmers like a clear, blue stream. Farah Ali's debut novel, which is set in a small town in Pakistan against the backdrop of a debilitating drought, will force you to rethink everything you ever thought you needed. Ali is a talent, and where she shines is in her ability to blend the catastrophic with the everyday. This is a book you'll want to read, but it's one you need to read, too." - Rachel Beanland

"Told in spare, lovely prose, The River, The Town, tautly and magnetically juxtaposes climate-induced poverty with fraught family relationships. Ali's portrayal of Meena, Baadal and Raheela at different stages of their lives, probing compassionately into memories, dreams, overheard conversations, will stay with you long after the last page. A must for any reader interested in the human impact of climate-induced scarcity and sustained hope." - Chaya Bhuvaneswar

"Farah Ali's stunning debut illustrates how even the deepest love can be corrupted by the encroaching devastation of a planet in crisis. An impoverished, drought-plagued town backdrops a tense family drama between a mother, her son, and the woman he loves. In this lushly painted world, villagers sleep on the ground, fight for food, and die from preventable illnesses, yet joy always manages to break through as does love - desperate, wounded, intimate, and true. The River, The Town surveys the losses we bring upon ourselves, the losses forced upon us by an unforgiving world, and the gains when we persevere." - Laura Warrell

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