Best Historical Fiction 2022--The New York Times

The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali is a New York Times' pick for Best Historical Fiction 2022!

Alida Becker: "These sturdy times machines have two things in common: They're built to last and they're constructed by pros."

There are ten books on the list, including three Nobel laureates, Abdul Razak Gurnah; Olga Tokarczuk; Orhan Pamuk. Read about all ten here.

So grateful and honored 💜

Rochester 9/24 at 4:00/*Reading & Book Signing

Please join me in person for a reading, Q & A, and book signing of The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali on Saturday, September 24 at 4:00 p.m. The event is hosted by Akimbo Bookshop in Rochester, NY.

"88 Books to Bring Your Summer Alive"--The New York Times

Thrilled and honored that The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali is one of The New York Times' "Books for Summer 2022." And, yes: it's still summer!

For the full list, click here. For the NYT review of The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali, see the section "Historical Fiction" in above link, or click here.

Conversation with Claire Chambers in Full Stop magazine

An honor to be in conversation with Claire Chambers, writer, professor, and Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, about The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali in Full Stop magazine. Excerpt: 

Claire Chambers: In the novel you've created many diverse strands within a complex structure ... How do you hold together all those strands? You briefly write about kintsugi: "the art of repair [...] visibly featuring the repair, instead of concealing it [...] The result is more precious than the original." 

Might kintsugi as the beautiful piecing together of history's fragments work as a metaphor for your own techniques in this novel? I'm thinking here of David Walcott's Nobel Prize acceptance speech from 1992, The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory, in which he writes: "Break a vase, and the love that reassembles the fragments is stronger than that love which took its symmetry for granted when it was whole [...] It is such a love that reassembles our African and Asiatic fragments."

This quote seems to me very suggestive for your own historical and aesthetic project: do you agree?

Uzma Aslam Khan: Claire, thank you for drawing my attention to Walcott's wondrous speech. I hadn't read it before. Yes, absolutely, it speaks to my own making of the many strands (of my novel) and their piecing together. I didn't choose to write it this way, though. The book decides. I was working with a wide cast of characters from different geographies, so the structure took awhile to reveal itself. Nor was I aware of the multiplicity till I was done. It was my Indian publisher who first pointed out that there were characters from what was to become Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, as well as from Burma, and from across languages and faiths. Maybe because of all the geographies that I carry within me, and all the fragmented languages and histories as well, lateral imagining and thinking seem to be where I go. 

I don't have a clear understanding of how I tap into the different voices. Each character appears first in an image--visual or spoken. So the prisoner's story began with letters from her family. Nomi with the chicken being chased by the Japanese. These seeds--or fragments--took shape from early scribbles that were more like sketches. It is a visual process, and I agree so deeply with Walcott's celebration of the love that goes into this assembling and reassembling, and agree too that it is "stronger than that love which took its symmetry for granted when whole." 

       ** Many thanks to Claire and Full Stop. Read the rest of our conversation here

 

Photo credit David Maine

The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali--now available in the UK

 


The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali is now available in the UK. If you live there, or know folks who do, please find it, order from your favorite bookstore, click the highlighted book title, or here. Send kisses on strong winds--books don't find wings on their own. Particularly those exposing the horrors of empire, and with a lot of tenderness and love, "a kind of intervention of knowing to the colonial one," to quote Aracelis Girmay from my conversation with her last month in Los Angeles Review of Books

Also pictured: Stokesia laevis, or Stokes' Aster. It's been budding and blooming since our return from NYC and the fab evening at McNally, where Mara Ahmed (left in the pic) asked me beautiful, thought-provoking questions on the book, and the audience engaged with so much heart.   




Reading and convo on my book at McNally Jackson Bookseller, June 28.

Conversation with Aracelis Girmay in The Los Angeles Review of Books

A gift of a conversation with the amazing poet Aracelis Girmay on my book, The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali, for Los Angeles Review of Books

This excerpt is from her introduction, one of her many brilliant questions (AG), and my answer (UAK):

"UZMA ASLAM KHAN's latest novel, The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali (now available in the US by Deep Vellum), is a fictional account of the Andaman Islands under British and Japanese occupation, before and during World War II. With piercingly lucid attention, Uzma has drawn an intricate spider's web that is both a record and a refuge. (Nestled in the book is the story of the spider who saved the lives of Muhammad and his loyal companion by spinning a web over the mouth of the cave in which they hid.) Uzma's novel is an attempt to record the catastrophic consequences of imperial regimes while also honoring collaboratively made moments of safety and sanctuary among the colonized, including banished and incarcerated people, children, and the more-than-human world. Perhaps such possibilities are refuges unto themselves--simultaneously invisible and glinting in plain sight."

AG: To me, the tenderness with which you write is a kind of intervention of knowing that is in opposition to the colonial one. For instance, the roles that record-keeping and surveillance play in the brutalities in the imperial project, versus the "knowing" of the Mayakangne, Kwalagangne, and Dare winds. There is the intimate knowing between Priya, the chicken, and Nomi, the human. The third-person omniscient narration suggests, again, a different kind of knowing. How do you think about the memories and interiors of others within this much larger context of layered surveillance? 

UAK: I love what you say about "interventions of knowing." It reminds me of Edward Said on knowledge: "Facts get their importance from interpretation [which] depend[s] on who the interpreter is, who he or she is addressing, what his or her purpose is, at what historical moment." When historical data privileges its own systems of knowledge, it's hard to trust the archives. It wasn't till about 15 years into the book that I began finding alternative sources, inspiring my own "interventions." A way perhaps to make fiction and an alternative record that I could trust. 

I'll give examples. The titular character, Nomi, is made up. Her brother, Zee, is based on a historical figure. The first shot fired on South Andaman Island during the war was by a boy trying to save a chicken from Japanese soldiers. This actual event frames the opening chapter. Zee is based on the boy, Priya on the chicken. I took the liberty of giving Zee and Priya a loving sister. 

The jailer, Cillian, is also based on a historical figure. I found reference to him in male prisoner testimonials. He is particularly feared by Prisoner 218 D. After the surrender of the Japanese, when the British reoccupied the islands, part of their strategy involved enlisting the help of former jailers. Cillian returns, with all the horrors that he took part in buried, along with my prisoner's name, beneath an official narrative of "white savior." 

Too, the knowledge that you speak of between human and non-human. It's essential in all my books. For me, the physical world tells the emotional truth. One that's displaced when human and nonhuman reciprocity is displaced. So, for instance, the cost of war on indigenous fishermen because of underwater mines that removed them from their oldest food source and ally, the sea. 

I can't say how I accessed these interiors. Love. Listening. A willingness to stay a long time, for instance, with the "knowing" of the winds that you mention. Interventions of knowing require immersion, empathy--these are acts of faith. There's a scene in the book in which an old man bemoans that the British never took their shoes off before entering a temple. I took my shoes off many times, yet I wasn't given permission to truly enter till I found Nomi.

** Read our full conversation here. So much gratitude to Aracelis, and to LARB for hosting us.**

 

Also, don't forget! (See previous post!) I'll be in conversation with another wonderful artist, Mara Ahmed, at McNally Jackson Booksellers in NYC--Seaport location, 4 Fulton Street--on June 28 at 7:00 p.m. Registration is required; please click here.

So honored to make language with dazzlingly large-hearted, deep-thinking women.

McNally Jackson | Seaport, NYC | June 28 @ 7:00

Friends, an exciting in-person event. I'll be reading from and in conversation about The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali , one of the New York Times' 88 Books for Summer 2022, on Tuesday, June 28 at 7:00 p.m. at McNally Jackson Booksellers, Seaport location (4 Fulton Street). There are many McNally locations, so please note this one. 

My conversation partner is the lovely filmmaker and artist Mara Ahmed. There'll also be a Q &A followed by a book signing at the bar--fitting, for this former bartender. 

RSVP is required; please click here.

Hope to see you there, and please share widely. 💛