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City of Spies Hardcover – September 19, 2017
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“Khan writes with lovely elegance…The novel is a moving success and necessary at a time when many of the same concerns have come to dominate our national (and international) consciousness.” —Kirkus Reviews
“City of Spies reminds readers that children bear witness to, and the weight of, the history unfolding around them.” —Booklist
“Khan’s ambitious work, written in a drawn-out, journalistic manner, is a good choice for popular fiction readers interested in 1970s Pakistan and identity politics.” —Library Journal
“The author, whose previous books also incisively and empathically deal with Pakistan at other crucial times of its life, spins the same magic…” —Business Standard
“Through the eyes of a young girl, City of Spies brings to vivid life a crucial episode in the history of the United States and Pakistan, at the moment of the Iran hostage crisis. The tensions and confusions of that time are intensely relevant today. Sorayya Khan’s rich and compelling novel is a gem.” —Claire Messud
“This delicate political novel evokes the sights and smells of the Pakistan of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and General Zia. We are inside the head of a child spying on her past. I read City of Spies as the story of another school girl in Pakistan, a different Malala. This Malala unmasks a whole new landscape of feeling.” —Amitava Kumar
About the Author
Sorayya Khan is the author of two previous novels, Noor and Five Queen’s Road. She is the recipient of a US Fulbright award, and City of Spies was the 2015 winner of the Best International Fiction Book at the Sharjah International Book Fair.
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As always with her work, Kahn teaches me not just history, culinary delight, and place, but political perspective as well. I enjoy the learning. Helps for understanding and that can only be a good thing.
Through the eyes of a young “half-and-half”, an adolescent girl of mixed Dutch and Pakistani parentage who isn’t sure in which world she really belongs, we meet characters from both the East and the West whose multifaceted participation in personal and international tragedies slowly reveal their complexity. But never completely. The psyche of an accidental killer (but is it ever really an accident?) is obscured and transmuted by the love of her family. A grieving father, who to our narrator is parent and servant and sibling all at once, startles us with the subtlety of his moral reactions to his countrymen and foreigners alike. Even a man who has lived his entire life in Lahore and Islamabad is a “half-and-half”.
Against the confidently drawn backdrop of 1970s Islamabad (which the author renders as utterly familiar), we spy on these characters, many of them spies themselves of one kind or another. We think we’ve learned enough to judge, only to discover on the next page, or the one after it, that we know so little. “You think so little of me,” one of the characters admonishes our narrator. In the end the author understands, and helps us to remember, that other people are never fully knowable, and it is exactly this mystery that gives City of Spies its tremendous narrative power.
Some of the things that happen in the story are horrific, and the young protagonist exhibited all the correct emotions and thoughts, but they never really resonated for me. As the story went along, I tried to figure out why, and then I got to the Epilogue, which is done from the perspective of the protagonist as an adult. The Epilogue did resonate and was beautifully written, and I felt that I was listening to Sorayya Khan's true voice. So maybe the choice of a child as protagonist wasn't the best. That said, the book is interesting, and I think that it would be acceptable as a YA book as well.
Story never went anywhere
Destruction of American embassy was underwritten - only spy was friend’s father and I learned nothing
Story appeared to be written by a mother to tell her children about a particular time in her life
Finished book but it was hard- would not recommend book