Mohammad Hanif -- the darkly funny and talented Pakistani writer -- was once asked whether Pakistan's violent and often oppressive political system was the reason the country was producing such fine novels. You know the expression -- the worse the place, the better the literature. Possibly, Hanif replied, but I'd rather have peace and bad books.
In the age of short memories and twenty-four news, constantly being updated and refreshed, Pakistan gets a rough going in the media. Seen only through the lens of terror and extremism, nearly two hundred million people are reduced to beards, guns, and shallow feel good stories. If the news isn't about an Al Qaeda hide out in Peshawar then it's about a fashion show in Karachi. (Pakistanis! They're just like us -- they like clothes!)
Anyone who has picked up a book in recent years will know that Pakistani writers are extraordinary. They are the keenest observers of this complicated country of ours; they are honest, curious and self-critical. The best investigate essential human stories, bypassing tired news headlines to portray a world otherwise unseen. And they do with wit, razor sharp prose, and a fine sense of negotiation.
My novel, The Shadow of the Crescent Moon, is set against the backdrop of the insurgencies in Pakistan's tribal region, near the border with Afghanistan. It's a story about three brothers that takes place over the course of one day. (For me the heartbeat of the novel are two women -- Mina and Samarra -- and how it is that women live and struggle through the turbulence of today's Pakistan).
If I had to choose, I'd also have peace but there are an awful lot of good books too. Can't we have both? Below are four fine novels by Pakistani writers: