From Publishers Weekly
As literature, Ali's first novel is reasonably interesting, a sort of awkwardly written, Delhi-based Buddenbrooks . As history and cultural record, though, it is fascinating. Originally published in Britain in 1940 and making its first appearance in the U.S., Twilight concerns the upper-class Muslim merchant Mir Nihal and his extended family. Mir Nihal and his wife were young children during the 1857 Mutiny and the resultant brutality on both sides. Now, in 1911, two of their sons work in government offices and the third one wears English shirts and shoes--a sure sign of Delhi's imminent demise. Even the present crop of anti-British activists are beyond Mir Nihal's ken--"He was one of those who had believed in fighting with naked swords in their hands. The young only agitated." Mir Nihal's intense nationalism often seems ahistorical in retrospect--Hindu feeling ran just as strongly against Muslim "occupiers" once the hated English left. The real residual power of the mogul golden age is not political (the surviving descendants of Bahadur Shah are all beggars and cripples) but cultural, and Ali's book is first and foremost a tender record of traditional family ceremonies, of kite battles and the old aristocratic hobby of pigeon flying. The cries of the pigeon flyers are the ubi sunt accompanying Ali's portrayal of the parallel decline of Mir Nihal's family and of mogul Delhi.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
In this novel written in English and completed in 1939, Ali, an Urdu-speaking native of India, commemorated the daily melody of traditional life in the old city of Delhi among the last, impoverished heirs to the refined Mogul civilization that dominated India until the advent of the English. Set during the early years of this century, it recaptures the texture of family life for Mir Nihal, a well-born Muslim who loves pigeons and whose son wants to get married. It recounts how that son, Asgar, fell in love, married, fell out of love, had a daughter, and became a widower. Ali's Proustian command of detail makes this archetypically human story sing. When, for instance, cats manage to kill Mir Nihal's pigeons, Ali makes us feel a visceral sense of his loss--and of his impending doom. At book's end, Mir Nihal lies bedridden after a stroke, Asgar is widowed, and the English have torn down Delhi's ancient walls and are building a "New Delhi" that will swamp the old. A perfect novel, the more valuable for its unique subject. John Shreffler