The weight that social and economic class imposes on young love is a well-worn theme in literature. “In the Orchard the Swallows” revisits this theme in modern-day Pakistan. In this Peter Hobbs’ novel a young boy from a lesser class becomes the victim. The plot is simple. A young boy is infatuated by a young girl whose father is a powerful local political figure. She is attracted to him and during an adult party she slips away to meet him in his father’s beautiful orchard. She decides to stay with him to she the orchard come alive at dawn. They both fall asleep. She is discovered. The boy goes to see the father to explain and is whipped. He retaliates by disarming the father and whipping him. The boy is immediately sent to prison. The narrative is conveyed as he subsequently writes an explanatory love letter for her during his post-prison recovery. He does not know where she is and he has lost his family as well.
This story is not about plot. Its beauty is in the feel it creates. Young love is a universal experience as is the beauty of nature. The surprising element is the time period. It could have been early 20th Century as small villages slowly change. There is currency however. A passing reference is made to the war in Afghanistan and by implication, the Taliban.
The novel leaves unanswered whether the boy was punished because of this innocent love between classes or because of his physical confrontation. There is no mention of the young girl’s history, and it would make an interesting companion novel.
This novella was well received. His first novel “The Short Day Dying” was shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award. This novel is worth your time.