Songs of Blood and Sword: A Daughter's Memoir

Image of Songs of Blood and Sword: A Daughter's Memoir
Release Date: 
October 29, 2018
Nation Books
Reviewed by: 

Fatima Bhutto has a unique perspective. In fact, she is the only person in the world who could write this story—and thank goodness she is. There is more pain, grief and sorrow in her life than anybody should have to live with. Fatima Bhutto describes her family's interpersonal relationships and their complex and prominent involvement in Pakistani politics. In the process she provides an intimate look inside Pakistan’s past, present, and future.

The author’s grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (past president of Pakistan) was executed in 1979. Her uncle Shahnawaz Bhutto (her father’s brother and political ally) was killed in 1985. Her father, Mir Murtaza Bhutto (who won election as assemblymen while in exile and heir apparent to become president), was assassinated in 1996 in front of his family home. Her aunt Benazir Bhutto (previous prime minister of Pakistan, whose husband Asif Zavdari is Pakistan’s current president) was assassinated in 2007. All of these deaths were premeditated murders.

Fatima Bhutto was born in Afghanistan, raised in Syria and visited Pakistan for the first time when she was seven years old. She describes her years growing up in Karachi. “I used to shiver in the dead of summer nights, begging myself to sleep and praying that I might push past the fear of violence and the specters of the dead that surrounded me and my city.” To live in Pakistan was and still is, to live in a state of fear. If you were or are a Bhutto, it is even more frightening—the author is presently living in the same home in which she was raised.

There is some interesting background about the history of the Bhutto family and how they came into their money, not to mention the way her grandfather and father became involved in politics. The brief description of how Bangladesh became an independent country, and Pakistan’s ongoing conflicts and collaboration with neighbors India, China, and Afghanistan, are also of interest, especially for those completely unfamiliar with the history in that region.

The writing in Songs of Blood and Sword is not that creative or inventive until the author starts writing about her relationship with her father (and “Mummy”), which takes up a good portion of the story. That is when Ms. Bhutto’s words hit home and touch the heart of anyone who has a loving relationship with one or both of their parents. Her connection with her father, Mir Murtaza Bhutto, is especially close and the reader can almost feel the love, frustration, anguish, and grief that have taken place in their lives. She also provides a touching glimpse into the love affair her father had with Della (a woman from Greece) and later her mother, Ghinwa. These events read like a romance novel, as opposed to a complex political struggle.

Ms. Bhutto has taken a no holds barred approach to her subject and revealed aspects of her family and Pakistani realities. Her ability to interview and meet with various family members, friends of the families, politicians, and those who hated or loved her grandfather, uncle, father, and aunt, is quite remarkable. The majority of her father’s friends and political allies believe that Pakistan has essentially become a colonial state of the U.S. and continues to abide by U.S. political wishes, regardless of the effects on their country and people. The author provides a great deal of evidence to support this sentiment.

Many examples and experiences corroborate the information the author has proffered. She goes into detail about how, why, and who it was that had her father killed, and adamantly asserts that all signs lead toward the present president of Pakistan (her uncle by marriage) and his accomplices, including (covertly or overtly) her aunt (Benazir). In speaking of her aunt, whom she loved as a child, Fatima says she had grown into a “complicated and manipulative” woman at the time of her death.

Ms. Bhutto asserts that Pakistan is without a free press or independent judiciary, and that “there are no safeguards against the violent and vindictive government of President Asif Zavdari.” She expresses that ever since her aunt’s assassination in 1997, she has had a “tangible feeling that we are not safe.”

Anyone who has lived this life would surely have similar feelings of apprehension and dread. When so many of those you have known and loved are suddenly killed, trust of anyone is unlikely. The driving force behind this memoir is Ms. Bhutto's “journey of remembering.”

In her attempts to make sense of what has happened, Fatima Bhutto has dug deep, bravely confronted those in power, and searched far and wide for answers and understanding.