This winter, I’m compiling a rather eclectic collection because that’s the mood I’m in. So here’s what I am reading in the cold, wintery days and nights, carefully handpicked some old and new treasures, which are set in Pakistan. Offered to you in the hopes that you might find something in this list that sparks your curiosity. There’s something for everyone: fiction, non-fiction, humor, thrillers, romance, got it all covered!

Kartography by Kamila Shamsie  

“For a second I was almost jealous of the clouds. Why was he looking to them for an escape when I was right here beside him?” 


Kartography is a warm and complex study of friendship, love, and roots, Kamila Shamsie focuses on the interrelationships of a group of vividly upper-class residents of Karachi, particularly Raheen and Karim and their friends and unfolds the moving tale of love amid the chaos of Pakistan’s civil war.


An Isolated Incident by Soniah Kamal

‘Tears pitted Zari’s face as she struggled against judging God. She had to keep faith that eventually everything would make sense and that, if it never made sense to her, she would have to find peace in the belief that her life had to, at least, be making sense to God” 


Zari Zoon, a vivacious girl from Kashmir, is looking forward to marrying her fiancé when tragedy strikes. Next thing she know, she is on a plane to America to stay with distant relatives who have offered to give her a temporary home to help her stitch back the tatters of her life. An Isolated Incident is a story of haunting memories and yearnings of a home lost, of a faith continuously tested and questioned and of a love that blossom against all odds.

Karachi, You’re Killing Me! By Saba Imtiaz

“I am about to point out that I just wrote a piece called threats to the coalition, but the paper is being used to soak up the grease from puris” -Saba Imtiaz, Karachi, you’re killing me!


Ayesha is a twenty-something reporter in one of the world’s most dangerous cities. Her assignments range from showing up at bombsites and picking her way through scattered body parts to interviewing her boss’s niece, the couture-cupcake designer. In between dicing with death and absurdity. Her choices seem limited to narcissistic, adrenaline-chasing reporters who’ll do anything to get their next story, to the spoilt offspring of the Karachi elite who’ll do anything to cure their boredom. Her most pressing problem, however, is how to straighten her hair during the chronic power outages. Karachi, You’re Killing Me! Is Bridget Jones’s Diary meets the Diary of a Social Butterfly, a comedy of manners in a city with none.

The Scatter Here Is Too Great by Bilal Tanveer

“Living in this city, you developed a certain relationship with violence and news of violence: you expected it, dreaded it, and then when it happened, you worked hard to look away from it, because there was nothing you could do about it – not even grieve, because you knew that it would happen again and maybe in a way that was worse than before. Grieving is possible only when you know you have come to an end, when there is nothing more to follow. This city was full of bottled-up grief.”


The Scatter Here Is Too Great explores the complicated lives of ordinary people whose fates unexpectedly converge after a deadly bomb blast at a train station in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. Bilal Tanveer reveals the pain, loneliness, and longing of these characters and celebrates the power of the written word to heal lives and communities plagued by violence. Elegantly weaving together these voices into a striking portrait of a city and its people, The Scatter Here Is Too Great is a tale as vibrant and varied in its characters, passions, and idiosyncrasies as the city itself.


High Life in Pakistan by Regula Bubb-Abderhalden

“The warmth, the generosity, the hospitality – be it in an Afghan refugee camp or a Pakistani country estate, were simply overwhelming… I know that I was only able to peel only a few layers of this complex society. But the mixture of impressions left us – and remains – intoxicatingly fascinating.“


High life in Pakistan is an observation of the social and political life of Pakistan by a former Swiss Ambassador’s wife during her stay here from 2010 – 2014. The book is a narrative of a society of contrasts, exploring a fascinating blend of political realities and societal conforms that makes Pakistan a very compelling country. It’s fascinating to read about Pakistan from a foreigner’s perspective. It’s a must read.

The Footprints of Partition by Anam Zakaria

“I was standing right across him. I could see my father wave at me while he pleaded with the Pakistani officials to talk to the Indians, to let me come just a little forward. But they wouldn’t allow it. That was the last time I saw him, from behind the Indian gate at Wagah border”


The Partition of British India and the subsequent creation of two antagonist countries is a phenomenon that we are still trying to comprehend. Millions displaced, thousands slaughtered, families divided and redefined, as home became alien land and the unknown became home. So much has been said about it but there is still no writer, storyteller or poet who has been able to explain the madness of Partition. Using the oral narratives of four generations of people – mainly Pakistanis but also some Indians – Anam Zakaria, a Pakistani researcher, attempts to understand how the perception of Partition and the ‘other’ has evolved over the years. Common sense dictates that the bitter memories of Partition would now be forgotten and new relationships would have been forged over the years, but that is not always the case. The memories of Partition have been repackaged through state narratives, and attitudes have only hardened over the years. Post-Partition events – wars, religious extremism, and terrorism – have left new imprints on 1947. This book documents the journey of Partition itself – after Partition.

Toba Tek Singh: Stories by Saadat Hasan Manto

“You would have realized that it wasn’t Mumtaz, a muslim, a friend of yours, but a human being you had killed. I mean, if he was a bastard, by killing him you wouldn’t have killed the bastard in him; similarly, assuming that he was a Muslim, you wouldn’t have killed his Muslimness, but him.”


Toba Tek Singh stories present you some of the best short stories written by the master short-story writer Saadat Hasan Manto. The titles included in this collection are A Woman’s Life, A Wet Afternoon, The Dog of Tithwal, Colder than Ice, The Gift, An Old-fashioned Man, Bitter Harvest, Toba Tek Singh, Odour, A Tale of 1947, A Woman for All Seasons, The Girl from Delhi, Green Sandals,The Dutiful Daughter, and The Price of Freedom.

The Dancing Girls of Lahore by Louise Brown

“I’m playing catch with Nisha and Nena. They’re standing against the opposite wall shrieking with enjoyment. They’re teenagers, but they’ve never played catch before and lack any sense of coordination; when they throw the ball to me it flies in any direction. Sometimes it hits the wall behind them. We’ve been playing for half an hour and they have only caught it twice.”


Sociologist Louise Brown spent four years in the most intimate study of the family life of a Lahori dancing girl. With beautiful understatement, she turns a novelist’s eye on a true story that beggars the imagination. Maha, a classically trained dancer of exquisite grace, had her virginity sold to a powerful Arab sheikh at the age of twelve; when her own daughter Nena comes of age and Maha cannot bring in the money she once did, she faces a terrible decision as the agents of the sheikh come calling once more.

The Crow Eaters by Bapsi Sidhwa

“I believe in some kind of a tiny spark that is carried from parent to child, on through generations … a kind of inherited memory of wisdom and righteousness, reaching back to the times of Zarathustra, the Magi, the Mazdiasnians. It is a tenderly nurtured conscience evolving towards perfection.”


At the dawn of the 20th century in Pakistan, Freddy Junglewalla moves his family — pregnant wife, baby daughter, and Jerbanoo, his rotund mother-in-law — from their ancestral forest home to cosmopolitan Lahore. He opens a store, and as his fortunes grow, so does the animosity between Freddy and his mother-in-law. While Freddy prospers under British rule, life with the domineering Jerbanoo is another matter entirely. This exuberant novel, full of rollicking humor, paints a vivid picture of life in the Parsee community.

How It Happened by Shazaf Fatima Haider

“It was always better to rebel in company than alone.”


Dadi, the imperious matriarch of the Bandian family in Karachi, swears by the virtues of arranged marriage. All her ancestors including a dentally and optically challenged aunt have been perfectly well served by such arrangements. But her grandchildren are harder to please. Haroon, the apple of her eye, has to suffer half a dozen candidates until he finds the perfect Shia-Syed girl of his dreams. But it is Zeba, his sister, who has the tougher time, as she is accosted by a bevy of suitors, including a potbellied cousin and a banker who reeks of sesame oil. Told by the witty, hawk-eyed Saleha, the precocious youngest sibling, this is a romantic, amusing and utterly delightful story about how marriages are made and unmade—not in heaven, but in the drawing room and over the phone.

The Return of the Butterfly by Moni Mohsin

“All he’s ever done to you is beat you … and you want to nurse him? Are you crack?” Jannat replies with a sigh: “Bibiji, what to do? When a dhol is strung around your neck, what can you do but drum it?”


The return of the butterfly can be considered to be a long monologue by a woman who likes to think of herself as a ‘butterfly’ because of her carefree nature. She is beautiful, vibrant and almost everyone would like to catch her but her spirit is always soaring higher. She traverses the boundaries of personal and social as she talks about everything unabashedly, including herself, her family and her country. Everything becomes one in a strange way and appears like it is part of her personal ramblings about life. In the line of many traditional European literary works, the writer has used the character of the ‘butterfly’ to comment, sometimes not so subtly, on the life of women within the barriers of what is called ‘home’ in her homeland.

Ashes, Wine and Dust by Kanza Javed

“What happens when two introverts collide? Do they dissolve completely in each other’s patience and silence, or do they break their glass shells and become new people?”


Immersed in the set imperative of middle-class life in contemporary Pakistan, Mariam Ameen decides to challenge the tradition of being female. Beginning in Lahore, the novel enters its first phase with Mariam struggling to retain the memories of her dead grandfather so engrained within her. A reverse journeying then begins as she travels backwards to her roots to confront what she once left behind, in order to find the answers she is looking for.

The Sweetness of Tears by Nafisa Haji

“The only way to rise above is to rise above. The only way to respond to wrong is with right. The only way to deal with injustice is to be just.”


An emotional, deeply layered story that explores the far aching effects of cultural prejudice, forbidden love, and hidden histories on a young woman and her family. She writes with grace, heart, and wisdom about the collisions of culture and religion, tradition and modernity played out through individual lives.

How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

“The fruits of labor are delicious, but individually they’re not particularly fattening. So don’t share yours, and munch on those of others whenever you can.”


How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a striking slice of contemporary life at a time of crushing upheaval. Romantic without being sentimental, political without being didactic, and spiritual without being religious, it brings an unflinching gaze to the violence and hope it depicts. And it creates two unforgettable characters that find moments of transcendent intimacy in the midst of shattering change.

Yasmeen by Sophia Khan

“Last night I met you in my dream, in a glade, beside a brook. We sprouted wings and flew then, across the wood and world. You led me through the Milky Way and danced beside me on the moon. And then I woke, alone, to winter light and I wanted only to be dead. Return to me tonight, my midnight Magellan, and all will be well again.”


Yasmeen Khalil raises her daughter Irenie on tragic romances. After her mother vanishes without a word and Irenie discovers a box of mysterious love letters, she realizes that the ill-fated lovers of her mother’s tales might be more than just myth. Searching for the answers she suspects her father has long suppressed, Irenie travels to Pakistan, her mothers homeland … and father and daughter find that they must help each other move out of Yasmeen’s shadow.

<emUsman Ahmed is the Islamabad Corespondent for Sunday Times 

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