IN THE author’s note, Aamer Hussein says, “My novel is the story of some of the paths I might have taken.” The book does bear the dull, deadening smell of authenticity — as if written in a rush of memory.

Like the Urdu and Persian poetry the protagonist, Mehran, is addicted to, this is a novel that constantly examines separation — from home, family, lovers and friends. As a child in Karachi, he watches his family in constant Brownian movement, vibrating with a desire for adventure and romance. As an adult in London, Mehran is tethered somewhat by a lack of money. He can only study hard and wait for what romance will find him — in the shape of the older and elusive woman Riccarda, the affectionate classmate Marco and the difficult lover Marvi.

Mehran is unceasingly gentle, his three friends less so but all are attuned to language and poetry. The trio are the only ones who understand Mehran’s need for an Urdu at once contemporary and rooted in a great tradition. The novel is interspersed with short and long poems — translated often by Hussein himself. The bulk of the book grows out of Mehran’s days studying Urdu and Persian in a fictionalised SOAS and his preoccupations about translation, orientalism and alienation.

Hussein’s prose is simple, quiet and elegant — adjectives this reviewer is beginning to despise, but the alternative might’ve been the heavy-handed allegory the novel begins and ends with or more elaboration of the rain/cloud/desert metaphor. There’s too much musing of the meaning of Karachi/London/Indore/ Delhi, as Mehran wanders elegantly.

Sentences such as “I spent my life longing for the place I’m not in, but when I go back I never fit” or “He has begun to feel, after the Indian trips, that he doesn’t belong anywhere; he is no longer in thrall of the places of his past’’ should be banned. As the novel says, quoting Shauq, “Chup raho kyun abas bhi rote ho/muft kahe ko jaan khote ho”. One wishes the characters would give their cerebral cocoon and Hafiz a skip and go to a karaoke bar or tend to goats.