From the first pages of his debut book, "The Faithful Scribe," journalist Shahan Mufti gets personal. He imagines a dinner party in which you, reader, ask where he's from, and after hearing him reply, "Pakistan," you ask him why the country is such a mess. Mufti, who grew up in the United States and Pakistan, attempts to answer that question and many more by probing his own family history to better understand the roots of the world's first Islamic democracy.

He artfully weaves stories of his ancestors -- which can be traced 1,400 years back to Islam's early days -- into the larger drama of Pakistan's struggles and triumphs, and of the country's long and complicated relationship with the United States.

Pakistan was formed in 1947 on a twin foundation of Islam and democracy -- an experiment whose outcome is still playing out and which has become especially relevant in our post-9/11 world.

"From the very beginning," Mufti writes, "people doubted that such a nation could ever work, and it was always going to be a tough challenge for a young state."

With clarity and depth, he penetrates the country's complex history, summarizing key moments and their impact on ordinary people like his parents. We also feel the democracy's progression slip when military Gen. Zia Al-Haq seizes power in 1977, prompting Mufti's parents to decide to leave for the United States and start anew.

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