The Tale of the Missing Man

E-book – $19.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-3759-2

Trade Paper – $19.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-3758-5
Publication Date
August 2018
Page Count
280 pages
Trim Size
6 x 9

The Tale of the Missing Man

A Novel
Manzoor Ahtesham, translated from the Hindi by Jason Grunebaum and Ulrike Stark

The Tale of the Missing Man (Dastan-e Lapata) is a milestone in Indo-Muslim literature. A refreshingly playful novel, it explores modern Muslim life in the wake of the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan. Zamir Ahmad Khan suffers from a mix of alienation, guilt, and postmodern anxiety that defies diagnosis. His wife abandons him to his reflections about his childhood, writing, ill-fated affairs, and his hometown, Bhopal, as he attempts to unravel the lies that brought him to his current state (while weaving new ones).

A novel of a heroic quest gone awry, The Tale of the Missing Man artfully twists the conventions of the Urdu romance, or dastan, tradition, where heroes chase brave exploits that are invariably rewarded by love. The hero of Ahtesham’s tale, living in the fast-changing city of Bhopal during the 1970s and ’80s, suffers an identity crisis of epic proportions: he is lost, missing, and unknown both to himself and to others. The result is a twofold quest in which the fate of protagonist and writer become inextricably and ironically linked. The lost hero sets out in search of himself, while the author goes in search of the lost hero, his fictionalized alter ego.

New York magazine cited the book as one of “the world's best untranslated novels.” In addition to raising important questions about Muslim identity, Ahtesham offers a very funny and thoroughly self-reflective commentary on the modern author’s difficulties in writing autobiography.
About the Author

MANZOOR AHTESHAM is an Indian writer who was born in Bhopal. He is the author of five novels and several short-story collections in Hindi, many of which have received accolades and awards. In 2003, Ahtesham was honored by the government of India for his contributions to literature.

JASON GRUNEBAUM and ULRIKE STARK received a National Endowment of the Arts grant to translate The Tale of the Missing Man. They are both based in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago.

"The Tale of the Missing Man is a picaresque novel of surpassing charm and uniqueness. Even when exploring postcolonial malaise, the narration is full of mirth. Our protagonist suffers from a mysterious illness and, whether this is the malady or just its cure, he recovers for us his past and in doing so gives us also a vernacular history of India. An authentic report from the heartland, delivered in jaunty prose with an absurdist, secular relish." Amitava Kumar, author of Immigrant, Montana: A Novel

"The translators must have faced a tremendous challenge, but they have done a superb job. They do not sacrifice the interest of one kind of reader for the other and create a happy middle ground that serves well the suppleness and grace of this delightful and evocative novel, which is one of its kind . . . Reading Ahtesham’s work in English is a discovery in itself." —

"A fine and engaging novel about modern India." Michael Orthofer, The Complete Review

"Grunebaum and Stark do sterling work translating Ahtesham’s novel... They captured Ahtesham’s meandering and highly detailed writing. The liveliness of the characters and the grit of Bhopal come through brilliantly. The Tale of the Missing Man will be best enjoyed by readers who love detailed character studies." —A Bookish Type

"This story of a man whose thoughts, like his initials, move from Z to A rather than the other way round, comprises a delightful, moving, and unexpected point of convergence where the lineages of Kafka and Saadat Hasan Manto meet. In Ahtesham's wonderful narrative, noticing, imagining, and storytelling constantly become each other." —Amit Chaudhuri, author of A Strange and Sublime Address and Friend of My Youth

"Charming and thoughtful... The Tale of the Missing Man is quite well known in the original Hindi, and the translation, by Jason Grunebaum and Ulrike Stark, captures the geographical and class specificities of tone very well, while also requiring no previous knowledge of Hindi or of Bhopal. It is an everyman’s story that asks of us: how different could we have been if we helped one another find what we were looking for?" —World Literature Today

"A sometimes-picaresque, sometimes-somber, always memorable portrait of life in all its glorious complexity." —Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

"A milestone in Indo-Muslim literature accessible to an English-speaking readership." —Public Seminar

 “This beautiful translation opens a window for the English language reader into a world that is rarely portrayed in Anglophone Indian literature.” —The Book Review India