Stories about books

“So, what’s Pakistan like?”

The old man had the most startling blue eyes, the kind that glittered in a wizard-like way. He was a contractual worker fixing some room in the building where I work, and I met him in the kitchen over my morning coffee. He asked where I’m from and widened his eyes. He didn’t comment on how good my English is, but how American my accent is (which I take no offence or pride in – it’s not the two years of Master’s in St Louis but all those American movies and TV shows I watch). And then he asked me ...

Read Full Post

Why is the Bangladeshi or Indian narrative the only acceptable narrative for 1971?

The year 2016 is ending on a somewhat positive note for Pakistan with a lower number of terror-related casualties compared to 2015. Yet there is one date that always affects Pakistanis aware of the 1971 partition of East (now Bangladesh) and West Pakistan. That date is the December 16th. December 16th is marked as Victory Day in Bangladesh, signifying not only its independence from West Pakistan (now Pakistan), but also its apparent victory over the Pakistani military. On this day every year, social media, not only in Pakistan and Bangladesh, but also in neighbouring India is abuzz with different narratives, opinions, and sentiments. #16December A historical day for India, the Day ...

Read Full Post

Homegoing: An uncompromising and astonishing book

Every year, there comes a novel with the kind of pre-publication hype that puts all other contemporary writing in shade. There are endorsements by popular writers, generous blurbs printed on back covers by famous critics and talks of million-dollar book deals and film rights. This year, that book comes in the shape of Homegoing, the debut novel of Yaa Gyasi, a 26-year-old Ghanaian-American writer. One particular feature of such marketing campaigns and publicity tactics is that more than often, the novel shatters the hopes of the readers; it becomes an anti-climax to their fecund anticipations that are fermented by the abundance of praise and excitement ...

Read Full Post

A Whole Life: Less than 150 pages but one of the most deeply affecting books I have ever read

My favourite book of the last year was A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Despite its ironic title the novel was little in no way, far from it. At around 800 pages, it was one of the longest novels I read last year and was gargantuan in every way possible; in terms of its subject matter, its length and in terms of the depth and resonance of its character. My favourite book of this year, so far, is the exact opposite: Austrian writer Robert Seethaler’s novel, A Whole Life. Yet again, despite its ironic title, the novel runs a little ...

Read Full Post

You know you’re in a Kamila Shamsie Novel when…

Kamila Shamsie is amongst Pakistan’s most celebrated authors as well as the most accomplished ones. Almost every novel in her impressive bibliography is a treat to read. The contents of her books linger on with the reader even after the book is finished.   Kamila Shamsie’s writing style is such that one could identify it without even reading the name of the author. Here are eight examples of how you can tell you are reading a Kamila Shamsie novel: 1) Distressed characters Everyone around you is a philosopher in distress. People have matured so much that they’ve totally done away with the small-talk. No one asks you ...

Read Full Post

Yes, adult colouring books do help

If you’re like most civilised people of contemporary times, the first thing you do upon waking up is check your phone to log onto Facebook. This means that by the time you’ve scrolled to the end of your newsfeed, your mind has a book worth of stimuli to process. These stimuli would typically include, several of your acquaintances getting hitched, a friends enrollment at a decent university overseas, a few gory pictures of a terrorist attack in some part of the world and if you’re lucky, a video of somebody yelling “Bright Karein”. By the time you’ve reached the bathroom to ...

Read Full Post

9 books that are literary treasures of 2015

Just like any other year in recent memory, this year, too, saw the publication of several overrated, overhyped, droningly disastrous and infuriating books. However, when the Swedish academy decided to award this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature to a non-fiction writer, the Belarusian journalist, Svetlana Alexievich, it was clear that 2015 will be remembered as an eccentric and exciting year for booklovers. Yet, that was not the only reason that set 2015 apart; this year was also rife with several hotly anticipated books by literary masters and a plethora of enthralling and breathtakingly promising books by debut writers. Unsurprisingly, one ...

Read Full Post

To the Taliban, We are Pakistan and we will never forgive you

You can burn down our schools, tear the lives of families apart and ask minors to recite the kalma before you shoot them in the head. You can wage a war against humanity, impose a rule of tyranny and redefine oppression. Your guns can shoot, but their voices will never echo louder than the resolve of this nation. Your flames will burn out, but a nation will still emerge from its ashes, even if it is battered, bruised and beaten. You will run out of lives to give, but there will always be a Pakistani ready to lay his or hers down for ...

Read Full Post

Aao Parhao – Jo Seekha Hai Wo Sekhao

As part of a remembrance to Robin Williams, I arranged a showing of Good Will Hunting and invited some school friends over. After the movie ended, one of them remarked on the critical role the protagonist’s teacher, Prof Gerald Lambeau (played by Stellan Skarsgård), a Fields Medal winner, and mentor  Sean Maguire (played by Robin Williams) had in his development. “We didn’t have anyone as dedicated as them. Not even close.” I had to disagree and thought back to an incident back in March 1991. The phone rang and my mother picked it up. “Hello, is this the home of Sibtain Naqvi?” a lady asked. My mother ...

Read Full Post

Has Harry Potter made us all extremists?

JK Rowling took the world by storm when she wrote the Harry Potter saga that spanned over seven books and was published in hundreds of countries in countless languages. Pakistan was not alienated from this magic and when Potter arrived here, the series began to fascinate the populous with the fictional world Rowling had created. I can still vividly recall getting swept in the Potter-fever as I read and re-read all the Potter books, hoping to one day own a wand, a flying car and other magical objects. As I grew up, Potter stayed with me and I consider it to be one of the defining factors in my life. ...

Read Full Post