What inspired you to write A Season for Martyrs?
I was inspired by the tragic event of Benazir Bhutto's assassination in 2007. It was one of the most devastating events I've ever witnessed. When she was killed, it was like a flame of hope was extinguished in all of us. I had to do something. I also wanted to capture the rich history of Sindh by writing down some of the family history my father had told me.
Where were you during the historical events that serve as a backdrop to your novel?
I was in Karachi when all of the real events depicted in the book occurred. I had friends involved in the People's Resistance Movement. My family wasn't personal friends with the Bhuttos but we had many family connections and mutual friends. The last three months of the year 2007 were intense, exciting, frightening... I wanted to capture what it felt like to be there.
Your book also depicts the difficulties faced by your hero, a Muslim man, and the young Hindu woman he loves. Is that cross-religion relationship a real problem in Pakistan?
It is very hard for young people to conduct romantic relationships in Pakistan. Many of them are across lines of difference - different sects, different ethnicities. We have had some controversy about Hindu women marrying Muslim men (more in the rural areas). Some of these are actually forced conversion and kidnapping cases, whereas others are women who want to marry of their own accord and their families file kidnapping charges in order to get them back. It's a complicated scene.
Are there any upcoming projects you'd want to talk about?
I'm writing a great big feminist dystopian novel very much inspired by Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. It takes place in the Middle East, however, in a time and place where women have nearly become extinct due to selective sex abortion, gender selection, and war and disease. I envision a society controlled by technology and women who have to be assigned to more than one husband: and then a secret collective of women who rebel and try to live life on their own terms.
What was the first book you remember reading on your own as a child?
Perhaps the first book I read for myself that really made an impact on me would have been the Little House on the Prairie series. We had it in our school library in Pakistan (I went to an American school) and I really loved it. The television series was aired in Pakistan a little later and I used to watch it religiously.
What is on your reading list?
I'm reading some commercial fiction: Summer House with Swimming Pool by Hermann Koch. I'm also reading Naomi Wolf's Vagina: A New Biography which I'm finding devastatingly brilliant. But reading it around the house is raising some eyebrows.