Now that it’s hard to travel, novels are more vital than ever in giving us an insight into other countries and cultures. So I’m pleased to welcome author and journalist Sonia Ahmed as she shares her pick of the best Pakistani authors writing in English. I’ve read some of these authors (and a couple are reviewed on this blog) but quite a few are new to me, so I look forward to discovering them.
The Heart Divided by Mumtaz Shahnawaz was the first Pakistani English novel published in 1948, a year after the partition. Today, Pakistanis and members of the Pakistani diaspora have produced numerous award-winning English books that won critical acclaim in Pakistan and worldwide.
English is not a foreign language for Pakistanis. It’s one of the national languages and taught as a primary language in Pakistan. So, it’s not surprising to see Pakistani authors making significant contributions to English literature.
In 2019, novels by three Pakistani authors, Kamila Shamsie, Mohsin Hamid, and Bapsi Sidhwa, made it to the BBC list of 100 Novels That Shaped Our World. The world is not alien to Bapsi Sidhwa, the famous author of The Crow Eaters and An American Brat. Her book Cracking India was later made into an Indian movie, Earth, as well.
There are many prominent literary figures in Pakistan, but today I’m going to introduce you to nine promising Pakistani authors that you must keep on your radar.
1. Nadeem Aslam
An advocate of reason and wonder, Nadeem Aslam is a prize-winning British Pakistani novelist. He published his first short story when he was in school. Nadeem Aslam’s writing style is associated with magical realism, a literary style often associated with subcontinent writers.
Nadeem Aslam explores immigrant identity issues, ambition, grandeur, social transformation, cultural exchange, and personal identity in his writings. His ideas are comparable to Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Kiran Desai. They were the prominent explorers of these social themes.
His finest work, Map for the Lost Lovers, gradually unfolds countless vices of eastern society. It depicts the suffocation brought about by the hypocrisy, bigotry, and betrayals of a middle-class immigrant community. It received the Encore Award and Kiriyama Prize and was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize.
2. Bina Shah
Bina Shah is one of the finest fiction writers of Pakistan. Author of four novels and two short story collections, Bina Shah, has been translated into many languages, including Italian, French, Spanish, Danish, Chinese, German, and Vietnamese.
Her witty humour, political satire, and feminist approach to writing have won her international fame. She writes about Pakistan’s cultural, social, and political issues and is a vocal advocate of women’s rights.
Her novel Slum Child reached the third position on the Paperback Bestseller List. Its Italian version sold more than 20,000 copies in less than three months and became the best seller of the year.
She has been featured in many world-renowned magazines and newspapers such as Granta, The Independent, Al Jazeera, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, and the Istanbul Review.
Bina Shah is a contributing writer at New York Times and in leading Pakistani newspapers such as Dawn, Express Tribune, etc. She was chosen as the best writer by OK Pakistan, the most famous celebrity magazine from Pakistan.
3. Kamila Shamsie
Kamila Shamsie is one of the notable authors from the Pakistani diaspora, currently living in the UK. She belongs to an affluent literary family. Famous literary critic, Muneeza Shamsie, is her mother, and she is the niece of renowned Indian novelist Attia Hosain.
She is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. In 2013, she was named as a Granta Best of Young British Novelist.
Kamila Shamsie has six novels under her belt: In the City by the Sea, Katrography, Salt and Saffron, Broken Verses, Home Fire, and Burnt Shadows. Burnt Shadows was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for fiction.
Her most famous work, Home Fire, is a personal sacrifice story and was included in the BBC’s Politics, Power & Protest list.
Kamila Shamsie writes mostly about history, family, love, war, and colonialism. Pakistan’s place in the world and its creation have altered people’s lives are the recurrent themes of her stories.
4. Mohammed Hanif
Mohammed Hanif graduated from Pakistan Air Force Academy as a pilot officer but resigned to pursue his writing career. He is a British Pakistani writer and journalist who writes a monthly opinion piece in The New York Times.
He is the famous author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes won the Commonwealth Prize for Best Book. It was also long-listed for the Booker Prize, shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, and received the 2008 Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize.
A Case of Exploding Mangoes has been translated into 22 languages. Muhammad Hanif’s latest novel, Red Birds, gained immense popularity for its description of post 9/11 incidents, including the invasion of Muslim countries by US troops in the name of peace.
Mohammed Hanif mostly writes about religion, class differences, class anxieties, global politics, masculinity, patriarchy, and oppression.
5. Mohsin Hamid
Mohsin Hamid is an emerging literary figure from the Pakistani diaspora, currently living in the UK. He has authored four novels Moth Smoke, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, Exit West, and a book of essays, Discontent, and Its Civilizations.
Mohsin has been translated into 40 languages. His novel Moth Smoke received significant fame at the international level and won The Betty Trask Award. It was also shortlisted for the PEN/Hemingway Award and was made into a television mini-series in Pakistan.
His other masterpiece, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, is set in the post 9/11 era. It depicts conservative practices like prejudice and biases of the western community. Mohsin Hamid’s writings are one of the most acute chroniclers of the schisms of our globalised world.
6. Ayesha Marfani
Who knew a shy, timid young girl will grow up to become one of the finest Pakistani storytellers. Ayesha Marfani writes primarily for kids. She received degrees in psychology, commerce, and education.
Ayesha started to write when she was a young girl. She found solace in reading fairytale stories. Storytelling came naturally to her as she narrated fictional stories to her young siblings. Later it became a source of inspiration for her to consider a career in writing.
Her first storybook, Fairy Tales of Ordinary Children, published by Crimson Cloak, proved successful. Some of her finest works include Miss Never Pleased, Peeper and the Peeping Boy, and Tell Tales From the Treasure Chest.
She is a regular contributor at Radiance Magazine Pakistan, The Truth International, and Hiba Magazine online blog. She inspires young writers and also provides counselling to those who seek it. She works as a homeschooling educator and is on a journey to spread love through stories.
7. Daniyal Mueenuddin
Translated into more than sixty languages, Danilyal Mueenuddin is a Pakistani-American short story writer and author. His stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, and Zoetrope. His stories were included in the volume of The Best American Short Stories 2008 compiled by Salman Rushdie and Heidi Pitlor.
His debut yet most famous book In Other Rooms, Other Wonders received immense appreciation at the international level and became the 2009 Story Prize Winner, Pulitzer Prize Finalist, National Book Award finalist, LA Times Book prize finalist, and shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize.
His works depict the lives of people of Southern Punjab and allow readers to peep inside the real culture of a country that’s often in the headlines.
8. Fatima Bhutto
Fatima Bhutto is the granddaughter of the former Prime Minister of Pakistan Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. She is the author of many fiction and nonfiction books inspired by her turbulent life as an offspring of Pakistan’s most influential political family.
She has been featured on NPR’s Morning Edition, CNN, and in the pages of Marie Claire, The Daily Beast, and New Statesman.
The Runaways, a psychological fiction, explores the provocative questions on what attracts young people to extremism. The novel won critical praise from Elif Shafak, the world-famous Turkish author, who found the narrative intense and moving.
Songs of Blood and Sword is memoir-style writing about her family. Other works include The Shadow of the Crescent Moon, The Runaways, Democracy, and Whispers of the Desert, a poetry book published in 1997 by Oxford University Press Pakistan.
9. Moni Mohsin
Moni Mohsin is a British Pakistani writer and freelance journalist based in London. She writes on culture, global politics, women’s lifestyle, class oppression, and patriarchal society. Her writings also appear in The Times, the Guardian, and The Washington Post.
She has four books published to her name. Two are novels that include her debut novel, The End of Innocence, and the second one, Duty-Free. The other two books, The Diary of a Social Butterfly and The Return of the Butterfly, are collections of her Butterfly columns.
Moni’s most famous work, The Diary of a Social Butterfly, has earned her fame as the humorist and social satirist. In the novel, you meet Butterfly, a loveable socialite who seems to be enjoying a luxurious life until she gets married and her journey to the new world of competition begins.
The novel is brimming with witty humour and is structured as diary entries where the Butterfly’s ignorant attitude and horrible English adds absurd temperament.
About Sonia Ahmed
Sonia is a short story writer and editor of Penslips Magazine. She is an avid reader and loves a good story that inspires readers and challenges their core beliefs. A dreamer at heart, she writes tales of the ordinary people of the society and believes every story is worth telling. She also writes non-fiction on subjects ranging from eco-friendly lifestyle to religion, science, and healthy living.