Fatima Bhutto: Songs of Blood and Sword
It is often said that reality is stranger than fiction. Fatima Bhutto’s
new book Songs of Blood and Sword
proves that adage and does it one better: in this new memoir, reality is more
compelling and more dramatic than fiction could ever hope to be.
Fatima Bhutto promised her father, Mir Murtaza Bhutto, that she would
write this memoir after his death–he was assassinated in 1996. In Songs of Blood and Sword, Bhutto boldly
describes the parallel destinies of her family and their country Pakistan; from the time of her grandfather Zulfikar Ali, Pakistan’s first elected Prime
Minister, to the present day.
Ultimately, Bhutto gives us a highly convincing and extremely compelling
memoir, the force of which is only slightly diminished by a few retroactive
attempts to trace the childhood rifts between her father and Benazir, and some petty
This book is not the simple nostalgic exercise that it may seem at first:
the 29-year-old Bhutto has been a strong voice of dissent against the regimes
of her aunt, Benazir, and her aunt’s husband, Pakistan’s current president Asif
Zardari. She lives up to her reputation in the book, putting forth damning
evidence about the couple’s involvement in the deaths of Fatima’s uncle,
Shahnawaz, her father, and the couple’s rampant corruption that has cost
Pakistan a reported US$3 billion.
Despite the revelations provided by Bhutto’s meticulous research, the
book is not about pointing fingers; instead, it’s an outstanding memoir linking
the personal to the political and the national. Fatima clearly shows how Pakistan’s
modern history is tied up in the ups and downs of the Bhutto family.
The book is also exemplary in its thoroughness: Bhutto travelled all
over the world, interviewing hundreds of people in Pakistan and abroad to piece
together the events of her family’s life. She provides the reader with a
nuanced and relevant look at contemporary Pakistani politics, putting events
and names into context for the oblivious reader.
Bhutto traces the family’s journey from her grandfather’s first foray
into political activism to her father’s untimely death. She describes her
father Murtaza’s exile in Afghanistan and Syria, his ups and downs as a
politician and the leader of an armed resistance group, and his eventual
failure to convince Benazir to return to the family legacy, for which he paid
with his life.
Bhutto intertwines difficult and emotional political material with
sincere and heartbreaking descriptions of her relationship with her father, his
boisterous personality, and his love for his family and country.
For the most part, the author’s accusations are timely,
relevant and too important not to be put out in the open. The obvious question
now is: has Bhutto gone too far? Only time
can reveal the next drama in the Bhutto legacy; for now, the author has given
anyone interested in the dynamics of political power in Pakistan a lot to think