The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Saad Z Hossain
By Farah Ghuznavi
Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?
I enjoy playing god with my characters. I like building worlds that are not quite real, but reflect parts of reality for different people. There are a lot of hypothetical situations you can explore when you’re writing fiction, and even more when you’re writing fantasy and sci-fi. But mostly, I like telling a good story, I like making up characters, I enjoy the idea that I’m creating something that other people might appreciate.
Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?
I’m editing my second novel, which is tentatively called Djinn City. It’s about djinns living in Dhaka, causing mayhem, and the subset of humans who interact with them. I’m not taking the folk tale approach to djinns, but I’m building up their culture, their history, their character from the ground up.
This is a Bengal centric novel. In genre fiction, the centre of the world, the kind of focal point of history and the future is always some place like London, or New York, white places with Eurocentric cultures. This is normal, since almost all genre writers in English are of European descent. In my novel, Bengal is the centre of history and magic and the future, everywhere else exists in peripheral darkness.
Describe your writing aesthetic.
I got nothing. Writing aesthetic is for prize winners. I’m a genre guy. The most I can hope for is to rip off George RR Martin twenty years from now and get on HBO. If HBO still exists in 2036.
Who are your favourite writers?
Neal Stephenson, Steve Erickson, William Gibson — these guys are masters of sci fi, fantasy.
In Bangladesh, writing in English, I know a lot of good authors, and I’m familiar with almost all of their work, because many of us have worked together in writers’ groups, or in the Dhaka Lit Fest. For novels, we have Anis, Shazia, and Tahmima. In short stories, there is Munize, Farah, and Ikhti amongst others, and for poetry we have Ahsan and Sadaf, and of course Sharbari, who writes screenplays. I’m talking about the younger generation of authors, who write primarily in English. We have a long history of literature in Bangladesh and there are countless famous names in Bangla and English whose work I have enjoyed.
What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.
I write purely for pleasure. I never think I’ve got to write a masterpiece, or a great satire, or the ultimate diaspora novel. If something isn’t fun for me, I stop writing it for a while, and move on, because I’m doing this in my free time, when I’m relaxed, and being challenged is not part of the equation. What I’ve found is that the writing flows better when you’re not stressed.
What’s your idea of bliss?
If I never had to worry about money or my family’s health, or world peace, I’d be pretty well set.
What makes you angry, and I mean all-out-smash-the-china raving mad?
Sometimes people spell Loose when they mean Lose. I don’t like that. I mean it doesn’t even sound the same.
What book/s would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?
I’d need a lot of books to get through three months. On the other hand, if I have absolutely nothing to do: no phone, no internet, no video games, nothing to drink, no one to talk to, then I’d probably get a lot of writing done. So yeah, I’d take nothing.
Your house is burning down. What’s the most important thing you’d want to take with you?
I’d take my wife and kids. Physical objects, I think I can live without anything I own. My most prized possession is actually my library — simply because I have books from three generations of my family, and they all had the habit of signing everything, geotagging it with date and place of purchase, so you can flip one open and get a hit of nostalgia.
Plus it would be difficult to collect all that Marxist literature now.
Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.
You have to accept the possibility that life, at the final tally, might very well be pointless.
Saad Z Hossain lives and writes in Dhaka, Bangladesh, for a miniscule audience of five to ten people.
His novel Escape from Baghdad! was published by Unnamed Press in the US, and Aleph in India. It was included in the Financial Times, UK best books of 2015, and the Tor Reviewers’ List 2015.
He is working on his next novel, titled Djinn City. The djinns are not pleased.
Farah Ghuznavi is Kitaab’s Editor-at-Large, Bangladesh