The Loot       
Abbas builds an automaton for Tipu Sultan, which gets looted by the British during their annexation of Mysore. The topic of western museums returning loot has been written about in detail to no avail – so James uses fiction to have Abbas travel to Europe to get his automaton back.

What Napoleon Could Not Do        
Nnuro writes a compelling narrative around a topic that I’ve always struggled to weave into a plot: visa issues. The cover is an incredible portrait by Amoako Boafo, whose show, what could possibly go wrong, if we tell it like it is, I saw at Gagosian a few weeks after finishing the novel.

Inside Story        
This book is a biryani. Three layers of rice: Larkin, Bellow, Hitchens. The masala is Amis’s swaggering prose and the aloo is the interspersed writing advice.

“These family values have been since thousands of years,” Sima Aunty said in an interview to prove there is a method to the madness. The method is carefully curated caste, socio-economic, religious, and horoscope aligned marriages. But what happens if someone — especially from lower or lower middle class in rising India— dares go against this ancient arrangement? Mansi Choksi details with gripping narration the lives of four such couples and their love marriages, which are equal parts inspiring and equal parts deeply disheartening, over a period of six years. “If its worth having, it’s worth fighting for,” Cheryl Cole preached in her hit 2009 song Fight for this Love. That’s the question that haunts these eloped couples: is it worth it? In one heartbreaking scene, a defeated lover sends out this regret-filled text: “Love marriage = destroy life of everyone who belong to you”

Golden Age        
Wang Xiaobo wrote under authoritarian rule about unchecked authority in a funny and urgent manner. His writing – both fiction and essays –  offer us a blueprint for our times.

Home Fire       
Maryam recommended this novel to me many times over the past years. I downloaded the audiobook before my flight from New York to Karachi and was hooked after listening to the first few scenes of Isma and Eamonn meeting for their daily coffees. The suspenseful ending was — spoiler alert! — set in Karachi and I heard it at 3x to make sure I finished by the time I landed in Karachi myself.

“It sounds like an explosion,” Gary Shteyngart notes in a video on how to pronounce Pnin. The novel starts with an immigrant professor on a train, not knowing that he is on the wrong train. I started reading this book (my first Nabokov) on a train and was suddenly worried that I might also be on the wrong train.

Forbidden Notebook         
I enjoy reading novels that are structured like a diary and Valeria Cossati’s secret journal is the best of all time.

Fathers and Children        
After reading an essay on how Turgenev managed to piss off “almost everyone he cared about'' with this book, I picked it up. I found the dialogues/debates/quarrels had incredible energy and built the momentum to propel the characters and story forward.

I took Elissa’s humor writing class many years ago and have always recommended it to everyone – now I also recommend her memoir and substack.

Falling Walls         
I came across the English translation of Girti Deewarein when the translator, Daisy Rockwell, won the Booker for her translation of Geetanjali Shree’s Tomb of Sand. A story of a struggling writer from Jalandhar (where my Grandmother was born), who crisscrosses an undivided Punjabi freely to go from Lahore to Jalandar to Shimla and back, in the 1930s, as he aspires to write and make a living. I recently saw this piece about the last remaining Koreans who remember an un-divided Korea and was reminded of the sadness that I felt when reading this century old novel: we might never get to experience what pre-partition Punjab was like.

American Fever         
I had read Dure’s essay and had admired how she wove Urdu poetry into English prose. Maryam, when visiting me, picked out the unread novel from my shelf and devoured it in a day and then was so eager to discuss it that I also read it in a single sitting the next day. We both discussed the many scenes where Hira dealt with so many of the same anxieties that we had when we first moved to America.

All My Rage        
I always enjoy a multi-perspective novel. In her review of A Burning, which also has multiple narrators, Parul Sehgal noted that: “The director Akira Kurosawa famously used three cameras to shoot each scene. The A camera he placed in the most conventional position. The B camera provided swift, impressionistic shots. The C camera, he described as a “guerrilla unit.” Rolling simultaneously, the three-camera system ensured that no detail would go missing.” I heard this novel on an audiobook, after Maryam recommended it, and the voice of Misbah gave me goosebumps.

Western Lane        
No athlete ever dominated a sport like Jehangir Khan dominated squash in the 90s: winning a world record five hundred and fifty five consecutive matches. This novel weaves in that fact, and the careers of the great Pakistani squash players, into a quietly contemplative novel about grief.

Best of Friends
When Maryam read the first draft of my novel in December 2022, she told me that the novel felt disjointed. She liked the Karachi sections of my novel but found the New York ones lacking. She told me she had felt similarly when reading Shamsie’s Best of Friends, like this review, and asked me to read it. I also loved the Karachi half of Shamsie’s novel, and felt disappointed by the London half, and started revising my draft.

The Gray Notebook
In my past trips to Karachi, I have come home with many books, aspiring to catch up on my reading list, and have gone back with all of them unread. This time I wanted to keep just one book. I ended up picking one in which the author is also visiting his hometown and journals daily— a practice that I’ve always aspired to keep but have never had the discipline to do so. 

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