At last, a Pakistani novelist attempting a novel of the scope and scale of Gone with the Wind. M. Salahuddin Khan s Sikander is a sprawling, fast moving and gripping novel that takes the reader through several decades and through several continents. In the tale of SIKANDER, we experience the tribal conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the problems of adjustment of the community as a minority in America today. For those looking for a good read while also learning about the world we live in, I strongly recommend SIKANDER. --Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, Ibn-Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, American University, Washington D.C.
"SIKANDER is an epic novel, reaching across the years of conflict in Afghanistan, from Soviet occupation to the post-9/11 years. Khan's depictions of everyday Afghan life, and the costs of the continuous conflicts across the social classes provides an eye opening look at something often glossed over in search of easy depictions of good and evil." --Ross Rojek, Sacramento / San Francisco Book Review
"A story of our times, SIKANDER is an immersion into the culture and experiences of one of the largest tribes on earth, the Pashtuns of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is the story of a rite of passage from boyhood, to manhood, and ultimately to self-hood that transcends the politics of conflict and delves into the human dimension with all its capacities for love and hate, intolerance and forgiveness, cruelty and self-sacrifice. Intricate in detail and vast in scope, Sikander is a journey worth taking." --Duane Evans, Former CIA Officer, Author of North from Calcutta
From the Author
Whether we like it or not we live in a complex and often dangerous world in which cultures often brush against each other. Diasporas (used generically here) and migrations fuel such effects and the assumptions grounded in one culture frequently fall apart when naïvely applied to another. I'm a product of a diaspora. I was born in Pakistan. I moved to England at the age of four, spending the next thirty-two years growing up and receiving an education there. In 1988 I moved to the United States. From my earliest years, I've found myself thrust into an outsider's perspective of never quite belonging to the place where I've lived.
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SIKANDER is a human story. It follows a young man's coming of age and subsequent growth through adversity. He finds himself more than once having to deal with loss, which brings him to the recognition of the ultimate and relative value of his own humanity and his relationships with people.
Sikander is also a citizen of the species. He belongs nowhere in particular and everywhere in general. In spirit, he transcends cultures while being a product of his native culture. Sikander's religion is a matter-of-fact aspect of daily life, informing decisions from the mundane to the seismic. Being a part of his daily existence, his religion is neither hanging in a closet only to be worn on Fridays, nor is it is a manic permanent resident of his frontal lobes.
SIKANDER also allows the reader an in-depth immersion into the "ordinary" nature of most of the world's routinely lived Islam, which is far removed from the misconceptions sadly prevalent in much of the non-Muslim world. The story does not, however, intend an apologist perspective. Neither does it suggest that we have a simple "east-versus-west" narrative to consider. It simply forces us to step into the ordinary lives of everyday Muslims while allowing us to be aware of the textured, varied, and nuanced hues of such life from rural Afghanistan to urban Pakistan and to a lesser degree for diaspora Muslims in the USA. All of this is still within the mainstream camp, without venturing into radical or heretical renditions of the religion which also obviously exist.
Sikander's personal growth as a man involves working through the cultural differences in the practice of mainstream Islam and the conflicts between it and the "fringes" of the religion without making him be a religious fanatic of any stripe while doing so.
An additional theme was to examine the veneer-like quality of what we call civilization. Seen frontally, it projects depth and substance and seeming durability. We use words like "institution" to help us consolidate such sensibilities into our collective psyche. But turned on its side it reveals its true lack of depth and fragility. After all, civilization has only existed for a few millennia, which is but the blink of an eye against the vast ocean of time that has shaped homo sapiens, the animal that lies beneath. We should not be surprised to see how readily any human being is capable of descent into unfettered inhumanity, under the sanction of higher authority. It also reminds us why we have governments, laws and rules and why "minor" losses of liberty, while alluring in their seeming role of safeguarding physical security, can so often lead ultimately to disaster, and in a very real sense, increase the risks to physical security.
Lastly, in SIKANDER I wanted to weave the thread of an individual life through the fabric of world events that shape it. When today we hear about casualties and soldiers' tragic deaths in conflicts such as the post-9/11 Afghanistan war or Iraq, the human interest focus is upon the lives and families of the fallen. We want to know what defined them as people, how they grew up, their military career, family and so on. All these things quite properly help us to look into their essential humanity and feel empathy for such a tragic loss. SIKANDER has been squarely aimed at doing something similar but from the viewpoint of the equally ordinary people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, whose lives have been touched by conflict and its fallout, but whose deaths are sadly often just statistics. The story attempts to remind us to re-examine how this rendering of "otherness" upon such lives causes us to fail to see their no-less-essential humanity.
I would also like to clarify that the story's setting in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the USA is secondary to its core focus being that of an examination of human nature and behavior across the boundaries between cultures. For a sense of realism, much effort went into researching historical events and the geography of the regions involved. This does not make this book a work of reference about either the events or the geography. The purpose of the research was to provide as realistic a context for the narrative as possible. But at the end of the day, it's a work of fiction. As for a source on the nature of Afghan and Pakistani culture, I would like to believe that the included glossary is both accurate and substantive and would strongly recommend the interested reader study its contents.
I hope you enjoy the story.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.