Your story in this week’s issue, “Of Windows and Doors,” takes place in a country descending into civil war. As is often the case in your fiction, both the city in which the story is set and the country are never named. How did you map out the city? Do you think that readers will put a name to this place?
I used Lahore, the city where I live, as a starting point for the city. And yes, readers are free to put names to this nameless place, if they wish. I often leave gaps in my writing, spaces for readers to fill in, areas left open to be co-imagined. I used namelessness here in part because I couldn’t bear to do to Lahore and Pakistan what happens to the city and country in this story, and in part because this could be a story of many other cities, and in part because we live in a world of extreme censorship and so namelessness is a way of drawing attention to the existence of what cannot be said, is not being said.
The story is taken from your forthcoming novel, “Exit West,” which is published next March. In the novel, as in the story, the two main characters, Nadia and Saeed, have only recently begun dating. How does the onset of violence alter the trajectory of a relationship such as theirs?
I think dramatic events can sometimes enhance the drama of our own romances, make the ordinary seem extraordinary, at least for a while. Like falling for someone on the last day of a holiday, as they are about to leave for the airport. In the case of Nadia and Saeed, the violence around them accelerates and intensifies their relationship. They meet, they’re intrigued by each other, they come closer, and then suddenly they are bound together, very early in their relationship, in a time of great turmoil. They begin to act almost like they are married, because all around them the world has become so devastating. What happens when the violence ceases, though, is another matter. Read more