“Half-and Half” Novelist Sorayya Khan Visits EMU

Sorayya Khan speaks like a bird flits from twig to twig – lightly, quickly, savoring each word. Her accent gives slight seasoning to the impeccable articulation. Language and Literature professors, students, and white-haired community members listened to excerpts from two of Khan’s three novels at last Thursday’s Writers Read.

All of Khan’s novels are set in the Pakistani region. Khan refers to herself as a “half-and-half:” her mother is Dutch and her father Pakistani.

Language and Literature Department Chair Mike Medley asked about the connotations of this term. Khan explained that such words, like “mixed marriages,” have less social baggage in Pakistan than in the States.

“A lot of it is good, and some of it is difficult,” Khan said about navigating that identity.

She was born in Europe, and moved to Pakistan as a small child – events that seem mirrored in her upcoming work, “City of Spies.” The prologue alludes to fictional families’ tantalizing secrets concerning the day the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan was burned to the ground. Khan’s narrative style and suspense held me spellbound throughout the reading.

Khan describes her writing style as political or historical fiction, as it deals with invented characters placed in actual events and contexts.

Her first novel, “Noor,” is about a family haunted by the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. Noor, the granddaughter of a veteran of this war, possesses a supernatural artistic talent. In her prodigious paintings Noor’s family sees traumatic, never-spoken-of elements of their pasts.

“We’re reading ‘Noor’ in my Global Conflicts, Global Novels [literature] class . . . I can read it in a different way [now], so I feel like I have a different perspective after interacting with her,” said Sophomore Naomi Scoville.

When writing “Noor,” Khan said she knew she would not be able to understand the brutality of war. So she wrote the “otherworldly” character of Noor, who accesses knowledge about her family’s experiences, and serves as a gateway for Khan and the reader into the minds of those irrevocably changed by violence.

“I was pleasantly surprised [by the event],” said Junior Afton Vanderwarker. “It makes me want to be more informed about what’s going on in the world.”

Khan, from the prologue of “City of Spies,” said, “All I’ve said is true, but truth is as wide and all-encompassing as you let it be, and there is always more of it.” The truth of her works

lies not only in their historical and geographical context, but also in the compelling details that give vivacity to her characters, whose lives are as precisely woven as birds’ nests.

-Randi B. Hagi, Co-Editor In Chief


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