Keynote Address at Fatima Jinnah Women’s University

I spent a few days at FJWU early in January wishing there was a way to put my experience in my luggage so that I could concretely share it with those in the US who might be skeptical that such a public institution (a women’s one, no less!) could exist in Pakistan.  I attended the International Conference on Gender, Social Sciences, and Humanities at Fatima Jinnah Women’s University (FJWU), jointly sponsored with the University of Texas, Austin.  I gave the keynote address, “Mercy is as Mercy Does:  Writing and Reading as a Novelist” which turned into an opportunity to talk about a few of the novels that moved me most in 2015.

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In addition to being introduced to an incredibly vibrant intellectual community, I met several scholars doing fasinating work, including
Dr. Anoosh Khan, who heads Gender Studies at the University of Peshawar, Dr. Suriyya Chaudhry, a photographer who teaches Fine Arts at FJWU, Dr.Barbara Harlowe, Professor of English at University of Texas at Austin,
Dr. Saiqa Imtiaz Asif, Chair of English at Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan.  I was touched to share a special conversation with Dr. Naheed Zia Khan, Dean, FJWU, and receive a beautiful and treasured gift from her, fabric woven by Gulshan Bibi from Haripur.


5 Queen’s Road as Memoir in Guernica

I’m often asked how ideas for my novels emerge.  Honestly, ever since I arrived at writing, I knew I wanted to play with my grandparents’ home in Lahore at least once.  Now, Guernica Magazine features my memoir piece about 5 Queen’s Road, the very place that is the inspiration for my novel of the same name published several years ago.  Below is a short excerpt from Guernica, along with the accompanying beautiful image.

A house is partitioned along the lines, and in the chaos, of the new independent nations of India and Pakistan.
Paul Klee, Reconstructing, 1926. Oil on canvas.

In the beginning, 5 Queen’s Road was my Pakistan. The house didn’t belong to me, and although it was my grandparents’ home, it didn’t belong to them, either. None of which stopped any of us from believing it did. The house was partitioned shortly before British India was, in 1947. The border that cleaved the latter produced the independent nations of India and Pakistan; the border that cleaved the former shifted, growing or shrinking depending on perspective and the passage of time. When I first arrived as a child, the inhabitants had already been mired in war for so long their memories were blurred and no one I knew could accurately recall its trajectory. Only two facts were worth remembering: my family had neither instigated nor perpetuated the conflict.

The house came to my grandparents in the chaos of Partition. It had been built by the British in the early 1940s and eventually sold to Dina Nath, a Hindu, who decided against leaving Lahore for India in the summer of 1947. Instead, Dina Nath drew a line down the middle of the house and searched for a Muslim tenant to live on the other side, hoping that the presence of a Muslim might protect him from the raging violence against Hindus who had dared remain in Pakistan. My grandparents, their seven children, my grandfather’s mother, and several of his brothers moved in. For reasons that are unclear and now impossible to know, my grandfather and Dina Nath grew to dislike each other until eventually the men stopped speaking. By all accounts, Dina Nath’s initial partitioning was generous, but over time the border moved until all that was left of my grandparents’ side was the house I knew. It consisted of two bedrooms and bathrooms, oddly shaped living and dining rooms, a study, and, for some mysterious reason, the entire back lawn, of which a corner was an outside kitchen where my grandmother prepared all our meals.

Read the rest here:



Sharjah International Book Fair

Sharjah Port


CITY OF SPIES was the 2015 winner of the Best International Fiction Book at the Sharjah International Book Fair.  The book fair was an amazing experience, spending time with the exceptional organizers, meeting numerous wonderful writers, and wandering through huge crowds of young and old buying shopping carts full of books from publisher stalls.

Some of the highlights were attending a panel  which featured Susan Abulhawa, author of The Blue Between Sky and Water (one of my favorite novels of this year), hearing Joan Bauer (an author of thirteen novels whose newest title, Soar, will be out early next year) share her thoughts on  writing, listening to John McCarthy quote a poet who said that an enemy is someone whose story you don’t know, listening to Anthony Grooms read his poetry, witnessing Moni Mohsin firmly draw the distinction between satire and sarcasm and read a hilarious selection from her Diary of a Social Butterfly, and meeting Shaker Hasan, translator extraordinaire who has an incredible story of his own to tell.
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“Where Do My Novels Come From?” Habib University Talk, April 2015

I had the pleasure of giving a public lecture at Habib University in Karachi in April.  It was only a few days after Sabeen Mahmud’s murder, a terrifying event for the arts and activist community in Pakistan, and a huge loss for us all.  Although the occasion was somber, I was lucky to reunite with Kamran Asdar Ali, from UT Austin, and Asif Aslam Farrukhi, now of Habib University. The last time we were at an event together was in Dhaka, Bangladesh when we joined a conversation with Bangladeshis about the ’71 war.  My talk was videotaped and can be found here.

Ilona Yusuf, poet and artist, reviews CITY OF SPIES in NEWSLINE: “It’s a coming of age novel. But it isn’t just that.”

One busy afternoon in the middle of the Islamabad Literature Festival, Ilona Yusuf and I found an unoccupied press room at the Margala Hotel and spent a few hours talking about writing.  Ilona is a wonderful poet and artist (see some of her poems and an interview here and her art work here) who took the time to re-read my novels in anticipation of meeting.  Ilona’s review is both thoughtful and insightful, and all the more special to me because her heritage is also half-and-half, so to speak.  See her Newsline review of CITY OF SPIES here.

Living Colours: A Trip Down Memory Lane

Shiza Malik of Dawn in Karachi interviewed me for Dawn’s regular Living Colours feature.  Her questions gave me an opportunity to reminisce about the Islamabad of old.  See the excerpt below and the full interview here.

Q: How has Islamabad changed as a city, from what it was like in the 1970s?

A: Islamabad is a mess of a city now compared to what it was in the 1970s when it still seemed spanking new and wide open. There were few sectors to keep track of, the Islamabad Club was one of the farthest corners, Margalla Road was a single lane in each direction, one Seventh Avenue was a border of the city, and the Blue Area did not exist.

In those days, the city was also peppered with houses frozen mid-construction and characterised by balconies hanging from the wrecks, bushes growing into window holes, and concrete stairs rising up or falling down but never quite reaching the roof or the ground. These ‘ghost houses’ were left behind by the fleeing Bengali residents of the city in 1971. I noticed the last of these houses disappeared some years ago.

In addition to overpasses, new far off sectors, mammoth construction and the upcoming Metro Bus, the biggest difference today is the prevalence of an endless range of security barricades and the inaccessibility of certain parts of the city, such as the Diplomatic Enclave. Thank goodness for the Margalla Hills which, although often hidden behind a haze these days, remain the city’s defining characteristic and are what I miss most when I’m away.

Book Launch of CITY OF SPIES in Islamabad

On Sunday, CITY OF SPIES was recognized in a panel at the Islamabad Literary Festival that was moderated by Bilal Tanweer with discussant, Harris Khalique.  It was surreal to bring my novel home to Islamabad, the city I grew up in, so many years after the 1979 events of the story.  It was especially lovely to have family and close friends in the audience, a rare treat indeed!  See Dawn’s brief coverage.

With Harris Khalique at book launch, Islamabad Literary Festival, April 26, 2015.
With Harris Khalique at book launch, Islamabad Literary Festival, April 26, 2015.