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Nadeem Aslam

May 9, 2009

nadeemaslam1I once read the review of Maps for Lost Lovers in Literati, The News. The scribe had praised the novel so much that when I ended reading the review I was convinced to buy the book. The South Asian writers always bring unique flavor by writing about the culture we all can identify with.

I did buy the book and though it was pretty slow and the failed to maintain the suspense about the killers through the end yet I liked his way of storytelling. And then I bought his first novel The Season of the Rainbirds. It’s set in a small town of Punjab. I liked it too though I couldn’t figure out what was there in the lost mail bag that everyone waited for anxiously. It is obvious both these novels couldn’t be termed as the best but the way writer describes the characters and their lives are enough to entertain you. Now he’s back with his third offering called The Wasted Vigil set in Afghanistan. I might buy it because somewhere I like Nadeem Aslam’s craft of storytelling.


Nadeem Aslam was born in 1966 in Gujranwala, Pakistan. When he was 13 he had had a short story published in Urdu in a Pakistani newspaper. He came to Britain at the age of 14 when his communist father (a former poet and film director, now garbage collector and factory worker) fled President Zia’s regime and settled the family in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. He went to Manchester University to read biochemistry but left in his third year to become a writer.

He sent the manuscript for his debut novel, Season of the Rainbirds, unsolicited to Andre Deutsch, who accepted it within 10 days.  It was published in 1993 and won two awards.  He was 26 when he began writing Maps For Lost Lovers in 1992, thinking it would take him 2 years to complete – it actually took him 11. During this time he lived on the award prize-money and various grants, living in a number of different UK locations – wherever he could find a place to stay.

Maps For Lost Lovers was published by Faber & Faber in the UK in August 2004 (USA publication by Knopf in May 2005).

He writes in longhand and says that sometimes a sentence will take a whole page of crossing out.” He says that the first chapter alone too five years to get right and the following story about Kaukab took seven months – but he then rejected it, keeping only 1 sentence of the 70 pages he’d written!

After two years he stopped writing the novel altogether in order to develop 100 page biographies of the main characters so that “I fully understood what this family was. Then I was six years into the writing and in deep financial trouble.” He laughs: “But it had to be done.”

He prefers to write in absolute isolation, draping the windows with black cloth and not going out for weeks at a time.  He says, “I always think of the silence and the darkness of a root that enables the flower to grow.”….”The only time I’m ever fully alive is when I’m writing. When I’d finished this book, I felt like a cage from which the songbird is being removed. For a month I just didn’t know what to do.”

Although culturally a Muslim, he describes himself as a non-believer and, due to money constraints, has not been back to Pakistan since leaving at the age of 14.  However, he says that he was raised with a ‘feeling for the life of the mind’ and was urged by his father to ‘live a passionate life’ and not to worry about money.  Aslam appears to live by these works as when he received a Royal Literary Fund grant he actually turned part of it down saying that he didn’t need that much!

When asked  if he is apprehensive about how the Muslim community will receive his novel he answers, “Writers have always got into trouble with people who think they know the answer….there’s no message in my books. My writing is my way of exploring my own life and the workings of my own consciousness.”

Aslam’s latest novel, The Wasted Vigil, was written in seven months. During the time in which he was writing, he saw no one. His family brought him food while he was sleeping. In appreciation, he dedicated the novel to his sister and brother-in-law for their support. The title of the novel is derived from a painting by Pakistani artist Abdur Rahman Chugtai (1894-1975) with the same name. Aslam remarks on the connection between his novel and the painting, in which a well-dressed, smiling, hopeful woman sits waiting, saying “the artist and God knows that it ain’t gonna happen. So once you look at the title, it’s quite a chilling picture.”

Aslam believes that “the novelist’s job is not to pose solutions, but to find out how best to live. That is the intention in each of my books.” As with all Aslam’s work, he begins with the mundane and discovers the beauty and pain of everyday life. In The Wasted Vigil, he started with a group of people with opposing ideological backgrounds and put them together. “I wanted to write about how friends become family,” he says.

He currently lives in north London.


If you want to hear the audio interview of the author click here: Interview

One Comment leave one →


  1. Fathers

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