You’re probably really excited about the Clockroot release of The Geometry of God. You are probably sitting at your computer, checking this blog, waiting for the right moment to inquire about when the book will arrive safely, soundly to your waiting arms. After all, books are important friends. They are valuable guests at your party. You want to know if this book is right for you, if it will comfort you or prop your door or make you cry or act as a miniature end-table for your hot tea. You want to know if Uzma Aslam Khan is going to be your new favorite author, or at least the new favorite author of the week. And in times of recession– in what the stern people on television call “this economic crisis”– you want to make sure you put your money where your heart is.
I was lucky. I got to read the book before you did, dear Clockroot blog readership, and I am pleased with the results. For days afterwards I thought of the questions I’d ask Uzma. I wanted the questions to be unbearably smart. When approaching a book that has three smart narrators, three distinct voices constructing one smart story, it’s hard to ask a smart question. Still, this must be a sign of a book worth its salt; the questions linger even after the answers become apparent.
Given the current political climate in Pakistan, do you see The Geometry of God playing a role in providing access to outsiders? Meaning, do you see your novel as taking part in a larger political discussion?
In some ways, perhaps. The retrospect I mentioned above is also our own real, political present. The book is set during the 1980s Afghan War and its long, painful and comical fallout through the 1990s. We’re still living in the fallout, as well as that of an additional war. So it’s as if we’re looking at that debris from this debris, and finding patterns that keep repeating themselves. I wonder if non-Pakistanis will see these patterns, find reason to say, “Oh! I recognize it!” and find as much reason to say, “Oh! That isn’t what I expected at all!” I hope the book will elicit both kinds of responses, even concomitantly.
In writing this novel, what necessitated having three narrators? Was this more of an aesthetic choice or a practical choice?
When I started The Geometry of God, I set three mock challenges for myself: the first was to have only one central character, the second was to keep it short, and the third was to keep the structure linear, so there was a clear beginning, middle and an end. I failed on all three counts.
The main characters, Amal, Mehwish and Noman, each have their own distinct voice and their own distinct point of view – but why three? Well, what they taught me is that while many writers, when they sit down to write, ask the question “what happens?” for me, the question that drives the narrative is less “what happens?” and more “who’s looking at what happens, who isn’t, and what are the differences in their ways of seeing?”
I was propelled in part by the mystery of how individual perspective shapes collective perspective, how the same events seen from different eyes are interpreted differently, sometimes even, over time, by the same pair of eyes, because memory has a way of reshaping events. So, there is no one central character in the book. In fact, none of my books has ever had a central character. My books have no leaders. They only have influences.
Could you talk a little about the choice you made to disrupt the chronological narrative towards the latter part of the book?
Ah, so now we come to my third failure. Jokes aside, I really did want to tell a linear tale. I don’t know why, maybe because my last book, Trespassing, was so circular too, and as a reader I find it so neat and pleasing to go from point A to point B to point C. As a writer, I would like to give the same pleasing sensation to my readers, and yet I seem to lead them all over the place. I’ve come to realize that for me to set a book in Pakistan and tell it in straight lines would feel very false.
I come from a country in fragments.As in real life so in fiction: the challenge is to make the fragments work together as a whole. The challenge intensifies as the narrative progresses because it’s always at the apex of upheaval that everything visibly crumbles, and then we don’t have time to pick up the pieces and re-examine them, re-fit them, as it were.
The geometry only makes sense in retrospect. It’s the retrospect that becomes the new geometry.