Book Review

Characters’ similar quest – to find love!

Book Review: This House of Clay and Water by Faiqa Mansab
Publisher: Penguin Random House India (22 May 2017)

It takes an effort to write a sentence and a whole lot of struggle to write a novel. Authors and novelists – either writing fiction or non-fiction – have to dwell in their mind to unearth the thoughts that create sustenance for their passion of writing and the food for avid readers’ hungry minds. In addition, in that process, the author creates a magnum opus that defines their creativity and provides an impetus for their writing career to grow rapidly. Faiqa Mansab, a promising author from Lahore, in her debut novel, This House of Clay and Water, has touched new heights of creative thinking by highlighting the very intricate details of our society that are hidden behind curtains or evident in plain sight.


This House of Clay and Water reveals the story through a number of characters. There are a number of voices narrating the story, therefore, making the reading experience enriching and distinctive. There are Nida and Sasha, two women who are lost in their respective worlds. Where Nida is the wife of a politician and seldom makes an effort to look good or feel good, Sasha, on the other hand, lives amidst brands and satisfying the opposite sex. Then there is Zoya, Sasha’s daughter who is lost between her world and that of her mother and fate leads her to a dark path from where she may not return only because she had been craving for her mother’s love. Then there is Bhanggi, a transgender living at a Dargah in Lahore who experiences a unique spiritual relationship with Nida. Because of Nida never finding true love, she finds solace around Bhanggi – an association not finding any place to blossom in this society for obvious reasons.

I personally fell in love with Faiqa Mansab showing the world her characters lived in. The simplest of facts such as the morning sky, the sunset, the tree, or the surroundings were shown with the writing concept of ‘show don’t tell’ to such an extent that I had to read and reread it multiple times to savor the written words. A few excerpts from the book below are a few examples:

“The sky hung listlessly over Lahore, looking faded as if it had been washed one too many times with cheap detergent.”

“There was the mystical, the colonial, the historical Lahore that had had countless marauding armies storm its legendary gates. Gates that lay in ruins now, like thirteen distorted maws, frozen in a mute scream, echoing mine.” 

“She walked over to the huge banyan tree, the bargadh. The tree was ancient, an increasingly rare sight in Lahore. The ground around it was broken and cracked, and the roots had broken out, like the gnarled fingers of a subterranean monster struggling to get out.”  

Many parts of the book made me feel the walls built around women in this society, by this society, are too harsh. It suffocates them. It hurts them. Nida has been living a life where she never experienced love from her mother, mother-in-law or husband. Nida has been neglected and made to feel insecure and insignificant by the people around her – akin to how Bhanggi feels – which connects them both emotionally and spiritually. However, in their relationship and how they feel, lies the reason for such emotional mishaps – our society is male-dominated and men want to exercise their hegemony over the opposite sex. On the other hand, Sasha, who always broke social norms and spent hours with other men in search of love but never saw a man blaming her for the life she chose. Faiqa’s way of explaining the lives of Nida, Sasha and Bhanggi is quite interesting as every character has a different life, varying problems and altering mindsets. Through Nida, Faiqa reveals the male-dominated society women live in Pakistan and how they are forced to abide by their husband’s orders. Through Bhanggi, Faiqa shows the Hijra community of Pakistan, especially of Lahore, and how the society terms them an outcast while the influential ones use and abuse them at their will. Through Sasha, Faiqa narrates the life of a lost soul who slowly transforms into a hijab wearing woman. Sasha remained dominant while she pleased men or when she turned into a religious woman – for in both of her persona she was in control. This was another delicate social predicament Faiqa looked upon in her story. Narrated with a combination of calmness and rage, Faiqa Mansab takes her readers on a journey where each character evolves in their own domain, eventually reaching the climax which itself sends the reader into introspection and retrospection.

Book Review

Faiqa Mansab’s novel divulges upon a tale of love and freedom!

“This House of Clay and Water” is Faiqa Mansab’s debut novel, which was published by Publisher: Penguin Random House India (22 May 2017). According to the website of Penguin India, Faiqa Mansab completed her MFA in creative writing with a distinction and an award for the best thesis. Her novel This House of Clay and Water is the final version of her MFA thesis.

Faiqa Mansab’s official Facebook Page:


While in conversation with Tehmina Qureshi and with the audience in attendance at her debut novel, Faiqa Mansab revealed how she saw a different Karachi now to the one she experienced almost fifteen years ago. However, where her novel revolves around the lanes, sights, and sounds of Lahore, she was pleased to be back in the city by the sea where she lived some part of her early life. She was talking to avid and curious readers at the launch of her debut novel, “This House of Clay and Water” on Saturday, August 5, 2017 at Liberty Books, Boat Basin, Clifton, Karachi.

Faiqa Mansab discussed her love with Lahore and the reason for her to incorporate this historic city in her debut novel. To an extent, she did face the writer’s block, but it did not hamper in her creative process for she always attunes herself to what she has to write. However, interestingly, as it is necessary for any writer, she did edit the book many times, in fact, multiple times. She said that every time she edited, she began from the first page. This kept her at par with her thoughts and enabled her to find any loopholes, mistakes, or errors in the manuscript. I believe this should be an inspirational message for all promising and aspiring writers and authors that there are no shortcuts in writing and editing. To develop an amazing manuscript and to produce a fictional piece, one must and should edit the manuscript as thoroughly as possible, even if means re-reading the editing all pages of the manuscript no matter how many they may be.


When commenting on the story of her book, Faiqa said that out of the main three characters namely: Nida, Sasha and Bhanggi, she fell in love with Bhanggi. Later, when she read an excerpt of her book related to Bhanggi, it felt she personified this character, a eunuch, in her mind to such an extent that every word she read felt coming out of Bhanggi’s mouth. I personally told her while she was signing the book, that she used the concept of ‘show, don’t tell’ at its best for I felt Bhanggi was sitting in front of me sharing his thoughts. I had similar feelings when she read two other excerpts from her book

I began reading the book from the very next of the book launch. Believe me, I completed 57 pages in one sitting. The story is captivating from the first word. While each chapter discusses the life of one character, the story progression becomes so interesting that you have to know what happens next, which keeps your curiosity at its peak. In each chapter, you get to know the life and thoughts of all of Faiqa’s main characters. Nida, Shasha, and Bhanggi are on my mind these days as I am contemplating their future actions even as I was writing this blog. Moreover, I am also pleased to see Faiqa Mansab coming up with a Pakistani-centric story that deals with themes of love and friendship and focuses on the lives of two females and a eunuch in a patriarchal society. This House of Clay and Water is a must read book – it will take you on a ride in the lanes of Lahore while embarking you on a journey that transcends mindsets, class splits, genders, and cultures.