Saba Imtiaz’s debut novel is a thrilling tale whirlwind of 20-something, journalist Ayesha Khan’s life.
Imtiaz’s fast paced novel allows you to race through the alleys of Karachi (and at times Lyari and Sindh) as the protagonist Khan makes her way to political rallies dodging bullets and bustling socialites alike, while often making a pit stop to the local bootlegger. An editor who has respect for her personal life, a father who seems like have just about given up on her (and potentially loves his cat more) and a talented and gorgeous best friend, hoist Khan through her journey. There are times when the novel seems like a stark stereotyping of everything that is “wrong” with cities like Karachi – but pause to think and you will realize, these aren’t really stereotypes and these people unfortunately do exist.
This is a story only an insider could tell – in the way that only Indians can speak badly about India and how dare foreigners attempt to do so. She allows her audience a window into the world of Karachi, women and journalism with a smarting wit. This novel doesn’t attempt to be a critique of society as much as just describing how things are. Whether people blame Zia Ul-Haq for each one of
Pakistan’s problems, or wash down packets of chili chips with glasses of Eno fruit salt, Imtiaz craftily brings images to life and makes you laugh when you least expect it. She displays the careful ability to critique and comment on what does go on within the everyday of Karachi but without once calling Karachi an actual hell. There as no light hearted talk about the Taliban, unless it was society women discussing their takes on the militant outfit at fashion week.
A fictitious headline opens each chapter such as ‘To ward off evil, Zardari kills one black goat every day,’ which represents the caricature of a newspaper that she works for, toiling away at the expense of her personal life. Between being assigned to random cover stories and finding time to get waxed and perhaps even change her clothes – Khan is a girl who takes notes by hand, but will still take men to a hotel bedroom – a “new” woman of sorts. She is a girl that anyone in the sub-continent could possibly relate to, and enjoy – either because you’re repulsed by her “liberal” beliefs, or because they charm you. This may not be the novel that someone will look up to you for reading, or be part of the literary cannon any time soon – it is entertainment through a book, at it’s best. There are flaws to the novel in that it can often seemed rushed, and predictable – but for what it is (and that it is not the rebuttal to Husain Haqqani’s recent book), this is a book that will grip you.
A note though: careful reading this novel in public, you will often be caught between a guffaw and a stitch in your side from the previous time you cracked up.
The book is available for purchase here: Karachi You’re Killing Me!
Saba Imtiaz is a freelance journalist based in Karachi, Pakistan. Her work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, the Guardian and The Revealer. She spent a year working in Jordan for a non-profit organization. Her first novel, Karachi, You’re Killing Me!, is being published by Random House India in February 2014. She is currently working on a book about the conflict in Pakistan.