Sep 20, 2022
Growing up in Pakistan, the novelist experienced the euphoria of free elections and the disillusionment when vested interests reasserted themselves. She reflects on the parallels with Westminster today
Last year, while I was working on a late draft of my novel Best of Friends, a story broke about a club known as the advisory board. It was organised by the former Conservative party co-chair Ben Elliot, and made up, at least in part, of donors paying £250,000 to the Tory party. It was an odd thing to read about, given that I had invented for the novel a club called the High Table for political donors who paid £200,000 to the party of government – I’d wondered if I was setting too high an entrance fee. I’m not claiming any kind of clairvoyance, just as I won’t claim clairvoyance for inventing a British-Pakistani Tory home secretary who becomes embroiled in a high-profile citizenship-stripping case in Home Fire, which was published before Sajid Javid became home secretary and stripped Shamima Begum of her British citizenship. All I had been doing in both cases was paying attention to news stories when they were still minor rather than headline news, and thinking about the directions in which they could and probably would move, given Britain’s political climate.
In the case of clubs for political donors, my antenna had started twitching at the end of 2019, when I read an article on openDemocracy about the Leader’s Group, a dining club open only to those who donated £50,000 to the Conservative party. I experienced one of those “Aha!” moments that tells you you’ve found something you were only dimly aware of seeking. I was at the time in the earliest stages of writing Best of Friends, which starts in Karachi with two adolescent girls living through a time of political and personal transformation and would end with both of them in London in their 40s, in something close to the present day. I felt a certain resistance to the stories of migration that are told in terms of the discontinuities between the place that was left and the place that is arrived at – the discontinuities can be destabilising or liberating but, either way, it is difference rather than similarity that is generally highlighted. While there’s good reason to write such stories, what are often missed out are the ways in which one place echoes the other. The story of the Leader’s Group sounded to me like an echo between Pakistan and the UK, though far fainter than others such as cricket, word-play and class stratification. I had no idea how loud it would become in the next couple of years. Continue reading...
Aug 06, 2021
Nawaaz Ahmed’s debut, “Radiant Fugitives,” sets an intimate family story against the Obama-era backdrop it can’t escape.
Jul 04, 2020
In a few decades, welcome centres for refugees have become detention centres built on violence and humiliation. The government must shut them down, writes Kamila Shamsie
In the last few months I’ve found myself returning, again and again, to a phrase that I associate with the project Refugee Tales and its campaign to end the indefinite detention of asylum seekers: counting up. When prisoners are given a jail sentence, they can count down to their release date; when refugees are placed in detention they can only count up from the date they were incarcerated, without knowing how high the number will go. In the last few months, we’ve all been counting up. Counting up from the last time we saw people we love, counting up from the last time we were at liberty to traverse the cities and towns in which we live, counting up from the last time we planned for an imaginable future; and, for some people, those who are most vulnerable, still counting up, from the last time they left the confines of their homes.
But when I say I’ve found myself returning again and again to that phrase, I don’t mean to imply that the months in lockdown led me to think that I know what it feels like to be in detention. Quite the contrary. While I was counting up I was also reading and writing and going on walks and able to see people I love, even if that was via a screen. I knew that the lockdown wouldn’t go on forever and, crucially, I knew the lockdown hadn’t been implemented with the express purpose of making people like me suffer. So when I considered those in detention centres I thought how lucky I was; I thought of how many people had been living in a counting up world well before the pandemic, and how they would continue to live in that world, regardless of treatments and vaccines. Continue reading...