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A Flying Man: Farooki’s Cad Fails The Sympathy Test

The Flying Man by Roopa Farooki

Roopa Farooki’s fifth novel The Flying Man is a strange one. It’s a brave author who attempts to win sympathy for a protagonist who is anything but likeable. It’s a gamble that didn’t quite pay off.

The eponymous flying man – so called because of his habit of flitting from one country to another – is Maqil Karamis, charlatan and fraudster extraordinaire. He keeps one step ahead of detection by adopting new identities and moving his base of operation. One time political activist, playwright and journalist, he morphs into a gambler, businessman, fraudster and thief.

Despite the light-hearted tone of Farooki’s narrative, Maqil isn’t the kind of rogue for whom you can have even a sneaking admiration because, with each new assumed identity, he leaves behind a trail of abandoned wives and children.

This is a man who seems perpetually in flight.

In his youth he flees from what he views as the stultifying conventionality of his family home in Pakistan, preferring the freedom of life as a student in New York. He arrives with three identities: Maqil to his family; Sonny to his mother and Sunny to his father.

But “let loose in the Land of the Free … ” he quickly assumes a fourth more enigmatic identity as MSK, “the campus international man of mystery.” Even this isn’t enough for him and he tries on more ‘costumes’ before deciding he quite likes being Mike Cram “an anonymous man who could be from anywhere.”

Over the course of the book he turns up as Mehmet Khan, Miguel Caram and Mikhail Lee in Paris, Cairo, London and Hong Kong. Along the way he collects three wives, though doesn’t bother with the niceties of divorce. When he’s had enough of the relationship, or the effects of his conniving, fraudulent activities threaten to catch up with him, he just disappears.

Rogue or cad?

The Flying Man verges on being a fun adventure novel but the humour never overcame my general feeling of unease about the sordid way in which Maqil treats his family.

Though he tries to court our sympathy with the occasional moment of self candour, his ‘mea culpa’ isn’t convincing. For this is a man who has made such a success of being a fraud, it’s hard to believe anything he says. I was more in sympathy with his second wife Samira and the twins he abandons, than with this chameleon. He wasn’t a loveable rogue, more of a cad who shies from anything that involves commitment or responsibility.

Maybe I would have been more empathetic if I’d understood more clearly why Maqil had this compulsion to be constantly on the move. But we seldom got deep enough into his personality to discover his motivation beyond a sense that he hates to be bored. Is that enough to make him a believable character? Not in my book. I wanted a fully rounded character but what I got was a shadowy figure that flitted from page to page.

This experience hasn’t put me off reading Roopa Farooki, I just have to find the right book.

The Flying Man: Fast Facts

Roopa Farooki was born in Lahore, Pakistan, but moved with her family to London when she was seven months old. She worked in advertising before she turned to writing fiction full-time.

Her first novel Bitter Sweets was published in the UK in 2007 and shortlisted for the Orange Award for New Writers that year.

The Flying Man, published in January 2012 , was longlisted for the Orange Prize in 2012. 

Sunday salon: New acquisitions

garden readingSunday greetings from one very hot reader. Here in the UK we’re going through a very hot spell and unusually this one is sticking around for a while.  Even though my garden is in desperate need of some attention it’s far too hot to do anything much beyond pruning the rose bushes and deadheading some border plants. On a day like this there really is only one thing in the garden I want to do and that’s to sit in it with a good book and a glass of something cold.

  • Which makes it fortuitous that I stocked up my reading shelves yesterday. I can hear you saying “I thought you weren’t buying any books till you’d cleared that TBR collection???” I have indeed been doing well on that front – more on that another time – but I had gone to the library to pick up The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan which had finally become available and then found the library was having a book sale. I couldn’t resist taking a look as you might expect and found some titles that will be good additions for my world literature reading project.

So now I’m set up for a lovely few hours of reading. And all I have to decide is which of these to open first.

  • An Elergy for Easterly which is  a collection of short stories by the Zimbabwean author Petina Gappah
  • The Flying Man by Roopa Farooki. This was long listed for the Orange Prize for Fiction (now renamed the Baileys Prize) in 2012. This is the fifth novel by Farooki,  who was born Pakistan to a literary family but now lives in London. It’s about a somewhat shady character who travels around the world adopting a different persona in each country.
  • A book by another Pakistani author caught my eye. Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2009. It’s a noel about the shared histories of two families, moving from the final days of the second world war in Japan, and India on the brink of partition in 1947, to Pakistan in the early 1980s, New York in the aftermath of September 11 and Afghanistan in the wake of the resulting US bombing campaign.
  • I’ve never read anything by Mario  Vargas Llosa, the 2010 Nobel Prize winner for literature , nor have I read anything by a Peruvian author so when I spotted Llosa’s The Dream of the Celt, it seemed an opportunity too good to miss. It actually isn’t set in South America but in Ireland where a hero of Irish Nationalism awaits the hangman’s noose having been convicted of treason.

I would have been happy with just those four but the library was offering a discount if you bought five so onto my pile went one book that has nothing to do with world literature: Jennifer Egan’s Look at Me. I have A Visit from the Goon Squad but have yet to open it so I have no idea whether I will like her style. This one predates Goon Squad by 10 years. It’s about a model who is trying to return to life after a catastrophic car accident which so badly impacted her face, she needed 80 screws to fix the back in place. Unrecognisable and unable to return to her former work, she drifts into drink and despair.

If these were your new acquisitions which would you read first?

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