A high-quality indigenous literary scene of genuine merit is one of those things that you don’t necessarily expect to find in Pakistan. In this respect it fits into a category containing other surprising aspects of life here, such as “Friendly People”, “Stunning Landscapes”, and “The Best Fruit In The World”, and just goes to show that you shouldn’t believe everything that you read in the media.
The list of Pakistani authors who have reached global acclaim in the last few years is getting longer by the day. Rather than list all of them, it would probably be a better use of our time if I listed some of the books by Pakistani authors which have made a significant impact on me. All of them are set, at least partly, in Pakistan. Some are by men and some by women. Most are fiction; one is not. Yet all of them provide genuine insight into Pakistani life in all of its complexity.
So without further ado, here is my list of Books By Pakistani Authors That Are Surprisingly Excellent:
Mohsin Hamid, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”.
A short but powerful story of a chance meeting at a restaurant in Lahore, with a sinister twist in the tale. This book explores themes such as honour and shame, the emotions felt by expatriate Pakistanis in the USA, 9/11, and also contains a love story of genuine power.
Mohsin Hamid, “How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia”.
A self-described self-help novel which is both genuinely hilarious and incisive, also containing a love story which moved me more than anything since “Love in the time of Cholera” by Garcia Marquez.
Mohammed Hanif, “A Case of Exploding Mangoes”.
Perhaps one of the best examples of black humour in recent years, this fictional account of President Zia-ul-Haq’s last days is darkly hilarious.
Kamila Shamsie, “Burnt Shadows”.
This novel completely astonished me. Shamsie’s narrative goes from the atomic attack on Nagasaki in 1945 to the end of the Raj to modern Karachi and ends up in Guantánamo Bay. How she manages to fit all of this in and yet make it a compelling and believable story is a testament to her skill as a story-teller. It’s utterly beautiful.
Kamila Shamsie, “Offence: The Muslim Case”.
This tiny little book contains the best analysis of the current tensions between East and West, including the War on Terror and its implications for Pakistan. It’s a work of non-fiction and seems not to have attracted much attention, despite the fact that it sheds more light on contemporary Pakistan than anything else I’ve ever read.
There are lots more out there, but this reading list will give you a good beginning. Of course, if you want to know more, you could always come to the annual Lahore Literary Festival with me…