The Age of Screenshots; A Story About the Pandemic, Lockdowns, and More

The past month's been busy with readings and launches. Here are some screenshots taken by participants and organizers while I talk, oblivious to how unbecomingly the camera is watching me. 

1. Saturday, November 7th. A conversation with Tamreez Inam, curator of IG's @readingpakistan, about my third novel The Geometry of God. Tamreez has the rare gift of being a gracious, welcoming hostess AND asking thoughtful, book-centered questions AND being as wonderful in writing (head on over to her page to read the review), all while championing so many other books. AND making it look easy! 

Bonus: the results of the US presidential election were announced during the convo. Yep, he's fired. 




2. Friday, October 23rd. It was my first time at the Islamabad Literature Festival, where I was thrilled to launch my fifth and newest novel The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali at a session titled "Every Detail Is Story" (from a chapter in the book). In case you missed it live, here's the recording (ignore the slight sound glitch at the start; it picks up):  https://www.facebook.com/OxfordUniversityPressPak/videos/291016728556505




3. Thursday, October 15th. The launch of AGNI 92 was a special evening, as I haven't read from a short story before. Novels, yes. They're my first love. Short stories I've come to later in life. I've had to get over feeling like I'm cheating on my lover, by also coming to love the short form. This story, though fiction, draws from my life. I'd been trying to write it for years. Someone asked me if finally putting it down was liberating. No. It was necessary. Like life and death necessary. 

The story, called "Now Pray: Notes on a Separation," set during the lockdown, is also about a family in lockdown from long before the pandemic. The questions asked at the launch were terrific, thanks to AGNI prose editors, Julia Brown and Jennifer Alise Drew. Watch it here:  https://youtu.be/-3RD0qquqiA

"Now Pray: Notes on a Separation" featured recently in an article in Dawn by Claire Chambers about four women writers of color--myself, Zadie Smith, Arundhati Roy, and Elif Shafak--writing at least partly about the pandemic and the violence of our time. Chambers writers, "Out of the four pieces ("Now Pray: Notes ... ") is the richest and most multidirectional discussion of the pandemic, lockdowns and reopen protestors ... This devastating, lyrical piece reflects on the many forms of lockdown that immigrants have experienced for years, and how this year's shelter-in-place orders further complicate that. The narrator uses the second person to write to her elder sister who ... underwent a mental health crisis that never lifted ... This is the finest writing on mental illness I've read for ages." I'm so honored for this mention.

You can read my story in AGNI 92


The Geometry of God--Book Discussion on 11/7/2020



Excited for this discussion with @readingpakistan, who selected The Geometry of God  as the book club read for October. 

Meeting ID: 846 9333 0491 
Passcode: 063259
Zoom link:

A page from the book:




Kirkus Reviews’ Best Book of 2009


Finalist in Foreword magazine’s Best Books of 2009 

Winner, Bronze Award, Independent Publishers Book Awards 2010 

One of "Ten Incredible Books by Muslim Women Writers" -- Nylon 

  

‘Uzma Aslam Khan, a fearless young Pakistani novelist, writes about what lies beneath the surface—ancient fossils embedded in desert hillsides, truths hidden inside the language of everyday life. Khan’s urgent defense of free thought and action—often galvanized by strong-minded, sensuous women—courses through every page of this gorgeously complex book; but what really draws the reader in is the way Mehwish taste-tests the words she hears, as if they were pieces of fruit, and probes the meaning of human connection in a culture of intolerance, but also of stubborn hope.’-- Cathleen Medwick, Oprah 


'The characters, the poetry and the philosophical questions she raises are rendered with power and beauty that make this novel linger in the mind and heart.' -- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

 

‘Uzma Aslam Khan comes from a generation of Pakistani authors born and raised in the disrupted decades of the 1980s and 90s... As in her previous work, Aslam Khan deploys several narrators, both male and female… Yet, it is above all, the two female perspectives which make the novel worth reading. Amal offers insights into modern Pakistan, but it is the abstract perspectives offered by her sister, Mehwish, a character who sees the world with her inner eye, tastes its truths and tells them "slant", that are the most original and captivating. We become attuned to her quietly anarchic voice.’-- Times Literary Supplement


‘The Geometry of God becomes that rare creature, a novel where the urgency of the message is matched by the verve of the narrative…the author's intelligence, imprinted on every page like a watermark, blooms into full colour when delving into Mehwish's strange and lovely inner world…The book may be (and probably will be) read by many as a primer to the growth of fundamentalism in the region; to my mind, however, that is the least of what this gorgeous, complex stunner of a novel offers.’ -- Niranjana Iyer, Eclectica

 

'Throughout this complex narrative, Ms. Khan writes with unfailing intelligence and linguistic magic.' -- Claire Hopley, Washington Times

 

'Khan's creative and exuberant use of language delights and puzzles us, and makes us think from start to finish ... Reading The Geometry of God is akin to being immersed in the sea of Khan's language. She demands total immersion and what we get from her depends on our own ability to appreciate the experience.' -- Tara Menon, Calyx 


'Beautifully written, funny and full of tension, The Geometry of God ... with its playful language and vivid characters, will give you what you expect from a novel: a great read.' -- Metro √Čireann

 

'Uzma Aslam Khan has boldly tapped uncharted themes in her latest book, The Geometry of God. It seemed for some time that Pakistani English literature had blurred into a chorus of post-9/11 repression … but Khan undoubtedly breaks the mould. She carves a sublime story of new and old with contemporary panache, in which people are real and their fears are prevalent and believable. Khan weaves a complex story whose narrative has a casual energy to it: each voice telling his or her story. Khan is not afraid to say anything.' -- Dawn 

 

‘Khan writes simply and with feeling, the language perfectly matching the personality of each character. It was a pleasure to read this profound, yet straightforward book.’ -- Jang Weekly 


'An unconventionally structured novel ... also fascinating in its use of language and drawings sketched as if by a child, in the midst of a mosaic of narrative from different points of view. Hilarious and moving.' -- The Hindu


'(A) novel about transformations ... in a prose at times eccentric and whimsical but always precise and poetic ... The geometry of God is an apt metaphor, not merely for the blending of science and faith that animates the central conflict but also for the loving spatiotemporal handling of the Pakistani landscape--from the inner courtyards and crowded cities to the Salt Range of the Punjab, as well as the reduction of all this expanse into the eccentric and mystical "boxes" that the blind Mehwish makes for each person she encounters.' -- World Literature Today


3rd Asian Literature Festival, Gwangju, South Korea

How cool are these flags! Instead of nations, they celebrate writers: 




The 3rd Asian Literature Festival, Gwangju, South Korea, is themed "100 years of Asian Literature: Women and Myth." I'll be reading from an essay I wrote for the festival on racism and violence, and also read from my novel The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali. Session details: 

Date and Time: Thursday, October 29th at 9:00-11:30 p.m. US EDT/ Friday, October 30th at 10:00a.m.-12:30 p.m. KST (Korean time). 

Zoom linkhttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/81429359421

ID: 814 2935 9421

Password: 127324

Every Detail Is Story: The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali at Islamabad Literature Festival 2020

 Excited for the virtual Islamabad Literature Festival! I'll read from The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali and be in conversation with Munazza Yaqoob and Sonia Irum, both of whom know my work intimately--so lucky to have them. (I was also in convo two years ago with Sonia about Thinner Than Skin  http://uzmaaslamkhan.blogspot.com/2018/05/thinner-than-skin-full-listing-of-uk.html)

Date: Friday, 23rd October 2020 

Time: 6:15-7:15 p.m. PKT (Pakistan time); 9:15-10:15 a.m. US EDT (US eastern).  

Watch it on Facebook: bit.ly/3fIbvI4

Watch it on Youtube: bit.ly/3fyXf4n

Watch it on Twitter: bit.ly/32scZm4

Watch it on LinkedIn: bit.ly/3k4WMJf

For more details, see: https://www.facebook.com/events/3356395211076679/  




Launch of AGNI 92: "Now Pray: Notes on a Separation"

Friends, mark your calendars for AGNI magazine's launch of issue #92. I'll be reading from new work, a short story titled "Now Pray: Notes on a Separation" on Thursday, October 15th at 6:30 p.m. (EDT)   

The event is remote and free. But you need to register, with one click: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-launch-of-agni-92-fiction-nonfiction-from-the-fall-issue-registration-123382836385

Myself and another writer will be in conversation with AGNI's two prose editors, followed by questions from you, the audience. 



This will be the first of three launch nights. For a complete listing, see: https://agnionline.bu.edu/blog/agni-hosts-three-fall-2020-launch-nights

I've long admired this magazine, now in its 48th year, and am thrilled that my work has found shelter in its rich and loving legacy. To continue supporting writers and artists, AGNI needs to be supported. So do consider subscribing, renewing, or becoming an AGNI friend: https://agnionline.bu.edu/subscribe?utm_source=200+in+20+Appeal+8&utm_campaign=200in20&utm_medium=email 

Thank you, and hope to see you on the 15th!

NOMI Wins!!!

So grateful to the judges for selecting The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali as the winner of the 9th UBL Literary Awards, English Language Fiction category. And many thanks to visitors reading my blog for sharing this with me! 

As you might remember, though Nomi is my fifth and most recent novel, it was 26 + years in the making. So I've held it longer than any other book. I've been asked how I slipped back into it after immersing myself in my other novels absolutely no less. The simple answer is love. Characters are held with love, or they leave. 

The novel, set in the 1930s and 40s, has come into the world at a time when there's still a terrible battle underway between right-wing ideologies. And the world is saying Enough. We need the past reframed by those denied the power to tell our stories, and we need our stories to travel. We also need our stories to find shelter: in collective memory. Only then can the healing begin. Every reader becomes part of the sheltering and healing process. Thank you to the organization for recognizing this.



Many congratulations to the winners in all the categories. You can read more about us here: https://thefrontierpost.com/ubl-announces-winners-of-9th-ubl-literary-awards/

Interview Highlights/The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali


A good interviewer is hard to find. For real. In honor of all the splendid journalists, writers, and readers out there, here are just a few highlights from the many conversations I've enjoyed since the release of my fifth novel, The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali. Thank you to each thinker, for expertly putting my work in its specific and global context, and opening the right space for me to speak and grow. Click on each link for the full interview. 

  1. How do you define and understand the genre 'Historical Fiction'?
     Alessandro Manzoni said historical novelists put 'flesh back on the skeleton that is history.' So that's one answer. But Manzoni was a white man, and history's skeleton and flesh have been constructed by privilege. My generation of women, the first to be born in Pakistan, has largely been severed from our history and geography, by the same forces that write the history and draw the maps. So I reject the notion that the history we're given is the only one there is. There are many histories, many ways to think about whose history we are meant to believe and meant to erase. For me, historical fiction is first and foremost deeply personal. It's a way to imagine the unimaginable. A way to embody stories not meant to exist. 

     "Imagining the Unimaginable With Historical Fiction." Interview with Uzma Aslam Khan in First Post. https://www.firstpost.com/living/uzma-aslam-khan-on-the-miraculous-true-history-of-nomi-ali-imagining-unimaginable-with-historical-fiction-6577581.html


    2. The novel juxtaposes the brutality during the war with the enchanting beauty of the island. The island heaves with life in the novel. Did you consciously work on this? Did you have any island novel as a template? 

       One of the questions that haunted me from the start was that despite the coconut groves and crystal bays that the British found in this pocket of the Bay of Bengal, they turned it into a penal settlement. What is the mind that looks upon beauty and sees, instead, a means of torture? That wishes for whipping stands, gallows, and eventually a highly sophisticated panopticon prison? That when surrounded by flowers unlike any in the country of its birth, aspires to be Head Constable of a solitary lock-up? I mean, think about it, even cold-bloodedly. Why destroy indigenous people and lands, and replace them with transported inmates that you must work extremely hard to crush? 
I was fairly preoccupied with these questions. They are closer than we want to acknowledge. Many of us may not be that destructive, but we destroy each other and our environment every day. We have always been attracted to beauty, and always attached it to power, with devastating consequences. So I am still haunted by these questions. What do we do with what draws us--preserve or spoil it?  
As to the last question, I didn’t have an island novel as a template, but at the British Library and Cambridge University, I read many accounts of British settlers on the islands. 

"What the Body Remembers." Interview with Uzma Aslam Khan, Punch magazine. http://thepunchmagazine.com/the-byword/interviews/uzma-aslam-khan-what-the-body-remembers 

 3. Trauma returns to the victims in the novel and they struggle to orient themselves within the fog of colonial horror (yet) their personal experiences lead them to what may be called victim/survivor empowerment. As Joy Kogawa reminds us: “What is healing for a community is more than just a solution of a political kind. What heals is a process of empowerment” (“Literary Politics” 15). How would you describe your characters in light of what I have just said?

     The body doesn't forget the silence that accompanies each violence. In The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali, Kaajal tells Prisoner 218D: ‘the opposite of peace is not war. The opposite of peace is inertia.’ Writing for me is a way to resist inertia, to find a metaphor (or several) for the trauma that the body never forgets ... Writing (is also) a deeply immersive act—it demands all of me, physically. Since I never have an outline or any kind of plan, the pen and page become the entire body. The physical world tells the emotional truth. 
    Which brings me to the necessary question of healing. One reader of The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali recently pointed out that though my characters carry trauma in their bodies, they also heal each other physically, with water and earth. (She noted: Haider Ali’s mother feeding him Multani mitti. Aye holding Zee when they swim. The aborigine women painting men with clay. And many other examples I didn’t consciously see.) I’d emphasize that what happens when the body is written out of history and memory, generation after generation, can only be written, reclaimed, and healed by the body. So I agree that a political solution is not enough. Healing requires more than that: it requires that the body be written back into history, story, and collective memory.

"From a Ruin of Empire." Interview with Uzma Aslam Khan, Southeast Review. https://www.southeastreview.org/post/2019/11/11/an-interview-with-uzma-aslam-khan


4. History is often told from a male gaze. How challenging was it to address these inequities in a work of historical fiction?

       At the start, it wasn’t challenging so much as frustrating. I encountered references to women in the freedom movement as either feminine ideals—dutiful and chaste sisters and wives who supported the efforts of men, mostly through social work—or else championed for being “as strong as men.” There the narrative stopped. The social and sexual stigma around their life in the prison colony meant that they were barely if ever mentioned in books written by men. 
      But at some point in my journey to writing the novel, I stopped caring about what had or had not been said. I entered that other world, the one of fiction, where the focus is on language and character. The unnamed political prisoner in my novel was the first character I wrote, over twenty-six years. My interest was, from the start, in her daily and interior life, as someone transported and imprisoned, more than in what she did to end up there. I didn’t want to erase or champion her: I wanted to know her as a person, in her entirety. She was a seed that I carried with me, across many seas. I just had to be patient. I had to let her speak. The same was true for Nomi, who in a sense becomes the keeper of her family’s history. I wanted to know how she got there. I wanted to value her life, as a young girl who grows up not only between two colonial powers, but between two parents who largely don’t see her. I just had to hold her, and listen, and forget about any other gaze.   

“The Story Has To Come From Within.” Interview with Uzma Aslam Khan, Frontline magazine. 
https://frontline.thehindu.com/arts-and-culture/article28064266.ece


5. This novel I find to be your most history-conscious to date, on many levels. One is your sense of history and history-making, with emphasis on the question of who (gets to) write/record and hence define it. Also … this novel will likely find a place in the literature of the subcontinent’s history, as a record itself—because there is little by way of fiction on it. Could you tell me how you view your role as a writer here, of writing/recording these particular histories for these times?

When I began, in the 1990s, I’d gone to the library to find a book. I didn’t find it, but found instead a book that referred to the Andaman Island “prisoner paradise.” I found the book I wanted to write. I had no idea how to start. I only knew that this was my history, not a separate Indian history. And I knew that I had not been taught it in Karachi. I don’t know how I saw my role. I think there were a multitude of impulses I could not have identified—curiosity about what I’d discovered, rebellion against my own ignorance, and the notion that the history I was given is the only one there is.I think I always rejected that notion. I have a healthy dose of scepticism. I ask a lot of questions. Mind you, I’m also dutiful: for the next twenty years, I collected every article and image I could find on the islands. But what sustained me was the fiction more than the facts, the license I gave myself to create. Which is to say, the license I gave myself to exist. 
At some point I did realize that no other fiction on the islands during the 1930s and 40s had been written before, at least, to my knowledge, in English. Now I’ve come to wonder whether it had to be written by someone in my position, someone severed from my history and geography by borders, without the privilege to suppose much, yet with the understanding that everything had to be learned and imagined from scratch. And if my novel comes to be a kind of record itself, I am honored.   

Interview with Uzma Aslam Khan,