Basti is the great Pakistani novel, a beautifully written, brilliantly inventive reckoning with the violent history of a country whose turbulence, ambitions, and uncertainties increasingly concern the whole world. In Urdu, basti means any space, from the most intimate to the most universal, in which groups of people come together to try to live together, and the universal question at the heart of the book is how to constitute a common world. What brings people together? What tears them apart? “When the world was still all new, when the sky was fresh and the earth not yet soiled, when trees breathed through centuries and ages spoke around in the voices of birds, how astonished he was that everything was so new and yet looked so old”—so the book begins, with a mythic, even mystic, vision of harmony, as the hero, Zakir, looks back on his childhood in a subcontinent that had not yet been divided between Muslims and Hindus. But Zakir is abruptly evicted from this paradise — real or imagined — into the maelstrom of history. The new country of Pakistan is born, separating him once and for all from the woman he loves, and in a jagged and jarring sequence of scenes we witness a nation and a psyche torn into existence only to be torn apart again and again by political, religious, economic, linguistic, personal, and sexual conflicts — in effect, a world of loneliness. Zakir, whose name means “remember,” serves as the historian of this troubled place, while the ties he maintains across the years with old friends — friends who run into one another in cafes and on corners and the odd other places where history takes a time-out — suggest that the possibility of reconciliation is not simply a dream. The characters wait for a sign that minds and hearts may still meet. In the meantime, the dazzling artistry of Basti itself gives us reason to hope against hope.