Jordan Times reviews Thinner than Skin

Was thrilled to see this review of Thinner than Skin in The Jordan Times, my first appearance in the journal:

Am I really being mentioned in the same breath as Gabriel Garcia Marquez?!?! Wooheee.

Happy and safe holidays to all. 

George Monbiot for The Guardian: Best article of the year?

One of the most moving articles I read this year was by George Monbiot (whom I've been in love with for at least ten years). See this excerpt:

"If the victims of Mr Obama's drone strikes are mentioned by the state at all, they are discussed in terms which suggest that they are less than human. The people who operate the drones, Rolling Stone magazine reports, describe their casualties as "bug splats", "since viewing the body through a grainy-green video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed". Or they are reduced to vegetation: justifying the drone war, Obama's counterterrorism adviser Bruce Riedel explained that "you've got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back." 

I'll never understand, but will continue to ask the question: how can the American public re-elect a president who says he'll continue a drone war that kills non-American kids, knowing that if he EVER referred to their own kids this way, he would not exactly be excused, let alone congratulated. Chew on that for Christmas, please. Non-American kids being killed right now by American bombs had stories, faces, names. They have families mourning for them still. They could also have had a new year. 

The Short Form: a fun website

An interview of me over at the lively, thought-provoking site, The Short Form, is up today:

An excerpt:

      What is your relationship with short stories?

      Novels, not short stories, are my first love. I came to short stories late.   
      Possibly the first ones I read in English that made me go, wow, these are 
      amazing, but, oh, these are difficult, was in grad school. The stories were
      "The Egg" by Sherwood Anderson and "Slave on the Block" by Langston       
      Hughes. What did -- and continues to -- draw me to this form, when I'm 
      drawn to it, is control and precision, two things I arrive at more easily when 
      writing a chapter, rather than a complete story. A short story must end,
      while a chapter must urge you to turn the page. It's a physical and 
      psychological difference: I don't like socks and I don't like to tuck the sheets 
      under my bed ...

It was fun thinking more about my sometimes difficult connection to the short form while tackling the questions. And if you visit the site, read the other author responses too. A great way to spend a weekday evening. 

Friday Times Interview (a little belatedly), Indian and Canadian Cover, and More

This interview appeared a couple weeks back in the Friday Times, but the link mysteriously disappeared from my blog. In it I discuss the new book, attacks against religious minorities in Pakistan, including on blasphemy charges, and Nana's blasphemy case in my previous book, The Geometry of God. Here's the link again:

The interviewer is Awais Aftab and you can check out his excellent blog here:

I also want to extend a special thanks to those who came out to hear me read from Thinner than Skin on November 8th. It was a cold weekday evening, but folks -- including many students -- still showed up. You give me hope.

And, and: Thinner than Skin is soon to be released in India, Pakistan, and Canada. Check out the cover below. The Indian edition is a very handsome hardcover, while in Canada it's a trade paperback, one of those soft, wrap-around things -- and with deckle-edged pages! I've always wanted a book with deckle-edged pages. The quality, color, texture, and cut of paper can make me supremely happy, and now, finally, with the fourth child, voila. Please go out and touch it.

Booklink Reading on Thursday, Nov 8th, at 6:30 p.m.

My new book, Thinner than Skin, is now out in the US, and I will be reading from it this coming week.

WHEN: Thursday, November 8th, at 6:30 p.m.
WHERE: Booklink Booksellers, Thornes Marketplace, Northampton, MA.

If you live in the area, please come!

Two very kind writers comment on the book:

‘Smart, fierce, and poignant: perhaps the most exciting novel yet by this very talented writer.’ Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

'In gorgeous prose, Khan writes about Pakistan, a land of breathtaking beauty, and the complex relationships between people who are weighted with grief and estrangement, As her characters' lives play out against the backdrop of the external world whose violence gradually closes in on them, Khan brilliantly probes the fatal limitations of human understanding. A novel of great lucidity and tenderness, filled with splendid descriptions of the land, the people who have always inhabited it, and those who are irresistibly drawn to it.' Thérèse Soukar Chehade, author of Loom, and Winner of the 2011 Arab-American Book Award.

US cover for my new book!

Out this October.

For details of the book, please click on the cover image.

And/or pre-order from amazon.

Cover painting courtesy the very talented Katherine Boland.

My beauties have another home

Each time I move I say the same thing: the hardest part is saying goodbye to my plants. When I left Lahore I was lucky: two of the most loving and giving people I've ever known adopted our plants, and the plants are thriving in their new home. Four years on, I'm moving again. This time too I've been lucky to know a couple who'll look after them with love and probably more expertise than I had.

But it doesn't make letting go any easier.

Here's a sampling of the orchids that blessed us with their beauty and spirit.

This one I call "bunny ears," though apparently it has a proper name. I admit to favoring this plant a wee bit more than the others, because the damn thing NEVER stopped blooming, not once in the two years we had it. Rain or shine. It just about convinced me that I could grow orchids, though I never had to do anything except admire it. And take pictures. This is soon after we got it. (It isn't clear in the picture but here it only had two "branches")

And this is just six months and about seven branches later:

By the time we parted, it had about twelve branches, ALL of which were blooming. The happiest plant I've ever owned.

Other beauties include this fragrant dangling orchid which we called the hippie plant (also known as "some kind of dendrobium"):

I picked this one up by chance right after a doctor's appointment. (Hawai'i may be the only place in the world where orchids are sold two doors away from a clinic.) Each "petal" is super tiny and cute.

The sweetest shade of yellow -- a different sweetest shade of yellow each of the three years it bloomed:

Green orchids -- who knew? We won it at an auction.

This one smells like chocolate, vanilla, and cinnamon all rolled into one:

Art shot of the youngest of the lot. It not only made me feel that I can grow plants, but that I can also photograph them:

May they all live long and shine.

Ami in Hawai'i

A few good things did happen during the time described in the previous post. The highlight: a visit from my mother.

At the zoo, with a monk seal twirling in preparation for his molt.

At Kona Brewing Co., selecting the boat we could get her for Mother's Day.

At Fumi's on the North Shore, eating spicy shrimp.

Just being herself.


For once I’ve a good reason for being negligent about my blog. Pain is a mighty nuisance. It’s also thought-provoking.

Last year in September I was climbing the stairs to my office on the 7th floor when I began to hear a clicking sound in my left knee. As the clicking got louder, so did the sensation of a tentacle sliding around in there. I went to the doctor. He recommended leg lifts to strengthen the quadricep muscles that support the knee. When I did these, my back hurt. I went back to him. He said the problem was minor and I should keep doing the exercises, and if after a few weeks, the problem didn’t go away, I should get an x-ray. It didn’t go away; I got an x-ray. He said the x-ray was normal, and, yep, keep doing the exercises. By now it was mid-October. The problem had been ongoing for about 5-6 weeks. Climbing stairs to the sound of that whipping tentacle was becoming routine, as was knee pain, as was swelling in my leg if I sat for more than ten minutes. The Dr. prescribed Ibuprofen for the swelling but I had a reaction to it and the swelling grew worse. And then one day, on a pebbly walkway in Lyon Arboretum, the pain was just too severe to go on. I called the Dr. again. He said he’d refer me to an orthopedist. I waited over a week. Eventually, Dave had to call the doctor’s office and yell at them to hurry up and get the referral; the referral came. Thank you hubby, but damn you, world, for listening more to men.

I’ll try to make the rest quick. The orthopedist said the x-ray wasn’t normal. My left patella, or knee cap (you have to admit, patella has a ring to it), had tilted way out of its groove. He showed me the image; the knee cap looked like a tiny saucer teetering at a steep angle over the right lip of a small cup. How’d it get there? Most likely, I was born with imperfectly positioned knee caps; my right patella also tracks at a diagonal. But on the left side, the angle had become extreme. Why? I still don’t know. It might be that just a month earlier, I’d gotten a US driver’s license and begun to drive in hilly Honolulu, forcing the clutch knee to work over-time. Our car – my first ever! – is a Honda Fit; zippy and nicely-sized but with pedals that rise too far off the floor for me. My left leg was never comfortable while driving. Or it could be the gym, where I’d begun to use elliptical machines a little manically. Or yoga. Qui sait? The bottom line, well, my knee cap wasn’t tracking properly, thus straining the tendons and causing the quadricep muscles to atrophy. He recommended physical therapy. He also gave a steroid injection to bring the swelling down.

I promise I’ll make the rest quick. The day after the injection I had trouble raising my left leg at all. Where before I could climb stairs – albeit with sound and fury – now I just couldn’t lift the leg. Stairs were impossible, but so was just plain walking. I mean, I couldn’t even walk over a television wire. I couldn’t sleep. Absolutely no position worked. I was terrified and angry. By the time I saw the physical therapist (in November), she said it was the worst case of patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) she’d ever seen. The knee cap was completely stuck. It was no longer teetering at that precarious angle but completely fixed in it. The muscles of my left thigh were gone. She was also the only one to admit that sometimes a steroid injection isn’t the right choice – it can damage connective tissues, like cartilage – though, and I’ll concede this grudgingly, when Ibuprogen and other NSAIDs can’t be had, it does bring the swelling down. But so does ice. Neither the general physician nor the orthopedist told me to ice, not even once. The therapist added that she tells her patients to first try ice and PT without the shot. So to anyone out there with similar symptoms reading my blog, first see if you can ice, rest, and exercise without an injection.

But to go on (okay, I admit I can’t be quick), I couldn’t do the exercises, even after the shot, because my back hurt too much. Turns out my right hip rides higher than my left. Like the position of my knee caps, this “abnormality” has probably been there for some time, but because the knees carry the back, with one knee out, the misalignment in my back had become more problematic. For most of December, the therapist worked on improving the alignment of my back. Her technique was interesting. I’d lie on my stomach and she’d ask me to cough. Each time I coughed she pulled my right leg and this brought the hip into place. It worked for a few days, but then the right hip would climb up again. Needless to say, the pain sucked. Plus, my right knee had begun to hurt as well. With the left knee and back not working properly, the right knee was compensating – and protesting.

By February the therapist conceded there were very few exercises I could do without aggravating my back further, grossly slowing down improvement of the original problem – petallofemoral pain syndrome – which by now had morphed to chondromalacia, or the thinning of cartilage under and around the patella. I also developed knee bursitis, or the  swelling of the bursae (fluid-filled sacs) around and behind the knee. Don’t you love these fancy terms? (Bursitis behind the knee is especially hard to get rid of and causes pain all the way down the back of the leg.) Most aggravating of all, my mobility was still poor. Stairs were completely out. So was/is driving. (I haven’t driven since last September.) Even bicycling, generally believed to be excellent for the knee, had become difficult (and still is. On the downward rotation, both knee caps stop tracking and start clicking). And I also developed bursitis of the hips (and still have it).

Yet, around mid-March, I did start noticing tiny – I mean really, really tiny – improvement. The left patella had become a little looser and tracked a tiny bit less at that alarming angle during certain activities like walking, or when I did leg lifts (not in the position I was told to do them back in Sept). I could see a little more muscle. I could do the leg lifts with weights. Kinesio tape also helped. From February-late April I wore it in a “C” around both knees, and even now, I sometimes have to tape up again when the tracking goes. I still ice daily, including my lower back and around my hips. And I exercise diligently every day –  I’ve missed only two days from November to this day in June. Today I have yet more muscle in my thigh, though the back and pelvis are still quick to tweak. There are still many activities I can’t do (like swimming; pure heartache, but the breast stroke is bad for the knees and I can’t do the front crawl). I’ve had all manner of tests to check for why recovery is so slow – MRIs and bone scans and x-rays of just about everything. The good news: the tests are normal. The bad news: no one knows if there’s an over-arching reason for it all.

I said at the beginning that pain is thought-provoking. It is. I am never not shocked. How did I go from being flexible, active, and lithe, to creaking like an old person? I’m not going to be my mother and believe that this is a divine test. But I will notice all those, both old and young, at the gym, on the beach, in lines at the movies, or at work, who are just as frustrated as I am when the elevators don’t work or when they can’t run or swim or squat. I also notice those who are physically strong, particularly young women. And I compare them to the way I was a year ago, or ten years ago, or thirty years ago.

In Pakistan, as a child, I was never taught the importance of physical strength, unless it had to do with eating more in order to be “healthy.” Never exercise – though, without much prompting from others, I loved physical activities and did what I could at school and other non-public places. There’s so much paranoia about girls-in-public that by the time we’re in our teens, even the lively ones grow sedentary, a habit made worse by very heavy study-loads at school. Overall, sitting, either for tests and exams, or for leisure and entertainment, is a favored local activity, and most of the ways girls are taught to sit (cross-legged, for instance) are bad for us. No one talks about keeping female joints healthy by building and sustaining muscle by being active from a young age. I’m not blaming my frame on the way I was raised – I know a lot of it is just body-type; I’m small and thin – though maybe I am, just a little. Because here in Hawai’i, teenage girls are so, so much more active than Pakistani girls of the same age -- swimming, dancing, bicycling, running – and I try to picture them twenty or thirty years from now and I hope that if they end up with an injury, including one they have no idea how they got, their bodies will allow them to recover more quickly, and more fully. Ten years ago, when I completed Trespassing, I used this quote of John Berger’s as an epigram: “To look is an act of choice.” I have started noticing things I never noticed before.