From the opening few pages of reading a Nadeem Aslam novel, I knew his writing was something to treasure and behold. Serendipitously, I used my then-day job to bring the Pakistan-born, British-educated-and-domiciled Aslam over the Pond to be a featured guest at the then-annual South Asian Literary and Theater Arts Festival (SALTAF) at the Smithsonian Institution. In SALTAF’s eight-year history at the Smithsonian, Aslam’s Maps for Lost Lovers — published stateside just in time for his appearance — is the only book that has ever sold out its sizable inventory before the lunch break. Never before or since has another SALTAF author commanded such exceptional sales.
The Smithsonian reading public’s sophisticated taste resonated far beyond: Maps for Lost Lovers won the Kiriyama Prize, was longlisted for the Booker, shortlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Award, and named a New York Times Notable Book. Maps is a contemplative, intimate look at a Pakistani community in northern England — self-named “Dasht-e-Tanhaii,” meaning “The Wilderness of Solitude” or “The Desert of Loneliness” — where a pair of unmarried lovers go missing. Five months later, the woman’s brothers are charged with their murder, and the man’s older brother must bring not only the families, but their reeling community, back together.