The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan by Rafia Zakaria
For a brief moment on December 27, 2007, life came to a standstill in Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto, the country’s former prime minister and the first woman ever to lead a Muslim country, had been assassinated at a political rally just outside Islamabad. In Karachi, Benazir Bhutto’s birthplace and Pakistan’s other great metropolis, the author’s family was suffering through a crisis of its own. Raifa’s Uncle Sohail, the man who had brought shame upon the family, was near death. In that moment these personal and public catastrophes briefly converged.
Rafia begins her intimate exploration of the country of her birth with these intersecting events. Her Muslim-Indian family immigrated to Pakistan from Bombay in 1962. They escaped the precarious state of the Muslim population of India following the Partition. For Muslim-Indians, Pakistan represented enormous promise. And for some time, Rafia’s family and the city both prospered. But in the 1980s, Pakistan’s military dictators began an Islamization campaign. This campaign was designed to legitimate the rule of the military dicattors, and it particularly affected women’s freedom and safety.
The political became personal when Rafia’s Uncle Sohail took a second wife, a humiliating and painful betrayal of kin and custom that shook the foundation of Rafia’s family. This betrayal was permitted under the country’s new laws. Young Rafia grows up in the shadow of her aunt Amina’s shame and fury, while the world outside her home turns ever more chaotic and violent as the opportunities available to post-Partition immigrants are dramatically curtailed and terrorism sows its seeds in Karachi.
“The Upstairs Wife” tells the parallel stories of her aunt’s polygamous marriage and Pakistan’s hopes and betrayals. This is an intimate exploration of the disjunction between exalted dreams and complicated realities.
Publication Date: January 5, 2016. ISBN 978-0-8070-8046-7.
Rafia Zakaria is an author, attorney, and human rights activist who works on behalf of domestic violence victims around the world. She is a columnist for Al Jazeera America, Ms. Magazine, Dissent, and every Wednesday in DAWN, Pakistan’s largest English-language newspaper. She also writes for www.altmuslim.com, Muslim Voices, The Hindu and South Asia.
Rafia serves on the board of directors of Amnesty International USA. She was born and raised in Karachi, India. She now lives in Pakistan and the United States.