Review

In the Valley of Mist: Kashmir: One Family in a Changing World

by Justine Hardy

IN THE VALLEY OF MIST is both history and memoir --- a story
about the North Indian state of Kashmir, as told by the English
journalist Justine Hardy, who spent decades visiting and revisiting
the region dubbed “Heaven on Earth.” Middle Eastern
conflict is no easy read for most of us, but having it described by
a Western outsider and one who is familiar with the Dars --- a
somewhat typical Kashmiri family --- gives the reader personal
insight into what can often be a very impersonal conflict.

Mohammad Dar is a Muslim carpet seller in a part of the world
where Hindus and Muslims once lived peacefully side by side, but
have since gone to war with each other. The Hindus, or Pandits, are
forced out by the Muslim Kashmiri army in an attempt to make
Kashmir a purely Muslim state, free from Indian rule. The book
describes the personal anguish that Kashmiri individuals go
through, shedding light on the complexity of civil war and the
young men who partake in it often against their will. A friend of
Hardy’s describes the Kashmiri militants in the following
fashion: “In Pakistan they tell them they will be martyrs, in
Delhi they call them terrorists. Here they are just
boys…someone you were at school with, played cricket or
soccer with once.”

Hardy’s experience in Kashmir mirrors the mood of Kashmir
itself. As a young girl she is free to roam the countryside in
t-shirts. As the region becomes more militant, she must wear a
pheran (full-body cloak) and be accompanied by a male. It is hard
for Kashmiris to understand why this unwed woman wants to travel
alone and interview men, when culturally men and women do not
communicate so openly, especially if they are strangers. Hardy
herself can’t contain her frustration at women’s forced
subordination --- of not being able to get an education and being
encouraged to marry young to men who are often much older. Those
who are lucky enough to pursue an education and become working
professionals are considered outsiders to their own countrymen. For
them it is a decision between culture and career, because the two
often cannot exist simultaneously.

The political unrest of Kashmir changes when a 7.7 earthquake
hits in 2005. Suddenly civil war isn’t as important as
survival against natural forces. Hardy documents the despair of the
region, even more despairing for having followed such a politically
challenging time. She reports honestly about the destruction and
devastation, and of the outpouring of support from other nations
that finally put Kashmir on the international radar, if only for a
moment.

The political history of the Middle East is daunting, to say the
least. Unless you have been following the politics there closely,
you will undoubtedly feel a bit lost reading this book. Hardy jumps
around chronologically and has side characters pop in and out for
single appearances, so it can be confusing to decipher what follows
what and who is saying what. But what it lacks in clarity, it makes
up for in sharing an intimate view of a single region affected by
insurgencies and counterinsurgencies. Focusing on this single state
--- aside from visits to the exiled Hindus, which also adds to the
confusion --- provides a more centralized and personal view into
the conflict that aids in understanding. If you get frustrated,
keep reading. This story definitely needs to be told.

Reviewed by Shannon Luders-Manuel (www.shannonluders.com) on January 22, 2011

In the Valley of Mist: Kashmir: One Family in a Changing World
by Justine Hardy

  • Publication Date: June 9, 2009
  • Genres: Current Events, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • ISBN-10: 1439102899
  • ISBN-13: 9781439102893