A book that means a lot to you?
Patjhar ki Avaaz (The Sound of Falling Leaves) by Qurratulain Hyder. The title story, the long short story ‘Jalavatan’ (‘Exiles’) and the novella Housing Society, about the role of intellectuals and the rise of the military regime in Pakistan’s first decade, are beautiful examples of a writer’s craft, and redolent of mid-20th century history.
Your favourite genre?
Short fiction. Ranging from about 10 pages to about a 120 (the latter the perfect length, in my opinion, for a novel).
Your favourite character?
I don’t really identify with fictional characters, but as a child I was drawn to Kai in Andersen’s ‘The Snow Queen’, and would still like to rework that story someday.
An underrated book? And why?
Good books find their readers eventually. Qurratulain Hyder’s splendid postmodern saga, Fireflies in the Mist, was virtually unnoticed when it first came out in her own English version in the mid-1990s, but it’s been reprinted to some acclaim now that she is being given her due in anglophone circles as a major writer rather than merely a major Urdu writer.
An overrated book? And why?
One Hundred Years of Solitude. I know many people like me who’ve failed to get past page 35. I find it tedious and mannered.
A book you wish you had written? And why?
The Fugitive by Pramoedya Ananta Toer. Drama, history and a perfect structure in this Indonesian novel of World War Two and its aftermath, told with the fatalism and inevitability of folktale or myth.