Posts Tagged ‘Geometry of God’

Two new reviews of The Geometry of God

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

This week the online journal asianamlitfans brings this review of The Geometry of God, by Stephen Hong Sohn. Here’s an excerpt:

“The novel focuses on four main characters: Amal and Mehwish, two sisters; Zahoor, their grandfather and proponent of evolutionary theory; and finally Noman, an individual who, over the course of the novel, comes to change his political viewpoints in relation to scientific inquiry. The most interesting aspect of the novel to me personally was the extensive exploration of evolutionary theory as it relates to cetaceans, which have been theorized to have descended actually from land mammals. Thus, while it is commonly understood by evolutionary scientists that all complex life originated from the oceans, cetaceans and sirenians and other such mammalian species tied to the sea, took the interesting approach of returning to that location. Thus, Amal is pivotal in that she discovers an important bone connected to what one might call a “bridge species” or “missing link” between land mammals and sea mammals. Like the famed archaeopteryx, the limbed bird that apparently exhibited the transition between lizards and birds, the “dog-whale” bone, found in Pakistan, incites interest in evolutionary theories in a place often inhospitable to such scientific ideas. In some sense, the major conflicts that arise in this text are between science and Islam, between women and career trajectories; thus Khan tackles salient and productive topics. … Khan has a poet’s ear for language and there will be moments where you will find yourself pausing to grapple with what is being said. One of my favorite passages: “The rain glows loud. I get the smell of Lahore I usually only get in summer, when it’s so hot people water their driveways. They turn on the hose to crack the whip on heat. And then that smell: of watered roads, of the earth opening up its maw, of tension released. Vapors slide over my tongue and deep into my lungs. It’s the smell of the fertile tunnels of Lahore’s past” (329). This imagery and these descriptions offered to us by Nomad vividly illustrate how characters are consistently embedded in an archaeologically inflected consciousness. Field dig sites located in remote geographies and dense urbanscapes alike become sites of excavation. A rich, multi-layered novel.”

Also let me excerpt from a review just out in the new print issue of Calyx:

Uzma Aslam Khan’s fourth novel, The Geometry of God, the first book published by Clockroot Books, more than adequately fulfills the publisher’s interest in fostering urgent, disorienting, vivid writing. In her latest work, Khan challenges the reader in multiple ways to make sense of the world she depicts in her pages. Her creative and exuberant use of language (Urdu and Punjabi words included) delights and puzzles us, and makes us think from start to finish.

In The Geometry of God, Khan’s literary landscape and sensibilities differ from those of the majority of female South Asian writers, except in her exploration of familial affection and forbidden romantic love. She plumbs female and filial repression as well as the struggle of science versus religion. Khan is most compelling in the latter, sometimes providing colorful dialogue to show the tension, irony, and silliness inherent in deprecating reason. …

The story, set in Islamabad and Lahore during the troubled era of Zia-ul-Haq in the eighties and nineties, follows the lives of two remarkable sisters—the younger one blind and the other a budding paleontologist—and a man named Noman. The novel unfolds through their voices in first-person narrative which, along with Khan’s employment of the present tense, gives the book an immediacy that keeps readers engaged. The first chapter rightly begins with the eight-year-old Amal’s voice since her life dominates the pages. We are drawn in by the child’s intelligent perspective…

Living in a repressive society, Amal has the good fortune to have Zahoor as a grandfather—not just because he is a paleontologist but also because she’s exposed to stimulating conversations, including debates about religion and science. Her childhood discovery of the ear fossil of the primitive whale, Pakicetus, or dog-whale as she likes to refer to it, is a major event in the scientific world. As a young woman, Amal becomes Pakistan’s sole female paleontologist, which is no easy feat since she has to tolerate the attitudes of male colleagues and the Islamic restrictions under Zia’s regime. Mehwish’s narrative reveals how she senses what happens around her and conveys her imperfect grasp of language, which Khan dexterously manipulates to add to the wordplay prevalant throughout the novel…

The only male voice in the story is Noman’s, though in the first half of the novel we get Zahoor’s perspective as well. Noman’s involvement with the Party of Creation (which wants to discredit science to Islam’s advantage) sets him on a course that will entangle his destiny with Zahoor and his granddaughters. …

Reading The Geometry of God is akin to being immersed in the sea of Khan’s language.

Events this weekend! From San Francisco to Turners Falls, Uzma Aslam Khan and Emily Toder

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

For West Coast followers: Uzma Aslam Khan will be launching Granta 112: New Writing from Pakistan this weekend at the Bay Area’s Litquake festival—see her at the “Litcrawl” on October 9, 7:15 at the Modern Times Bookstore.  Go see her for us, we wish we could be there.

And/or: catch Uzma at Revolution Books in Berkeley at 7 pm on October 12, where she might read from The Geometry of God and—maybe this is just a rumor I’m starting—perhaps from her new novel, from which her piece in Granta is excerpted.

If you’re local—head up to the Rendezvous this Sunday, where Emily Toder and James Haug will read as part of Slope Editions‘ reading series. Emily will read her own poetry (I’ve been awaiting her chapbook, Brushes With, just out from Tarpaulin Sky)— and maybe a taste of Doctor Pi, too.  The reading’s at 5 (and stay for karaoke at 8 if you like…).

And to honor the spirit of international collaboration: I’ve somehow neglected to mention Emily’s co-chapbook, I Hear a Boat, which was released this summer with Joan Fleming’s Two Dreams in Which Things Are Taken as part of the Duets series. Duets is a project to pair poets from the US and New Zealand, publishing their work side-by-side in beautifully designed chapbooks—offering not just two servings of great poetry, but international collegiality & conversation.

Uzma Aslam Khan & Granta 112: New writing from Pakistan

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

g112-cover-1Granta‘s fall 2010 issue  features writing from Pakistan, including a new story, “Ice, Mating,” by Uzma Aslam Khan. It looks like a fantastic issue, can’t wait to see it!  And Uzma will be at San Francisco’s Litquake festival in October, for those of you in the Bay Area; we’ll link to the schedule once it’s up.

The Geometry of God: “A gorgeous, complex stunner of a novel”

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

The new issue of Eclectica reviews Uzma Aslam Khan’s The Geometry of God:

In her third book, Aslam gives us a female paleontologist, charged writing about the erotic, and a profound inquiry into the often-vexing relationship between faith and reason. Add to these riches the voice of a blind child “taste-testing” words, and The Geometry of God becomes that rare creature, a novel where the urgency of the message is matched by the verve of the narrative.

Read the rest here!  (And I appreciate their comment about the cover—someone ought to write a little feature sometime on novel covers and Orientalism, all those swirling fabrics & dark eyeliner.)

And another new review of Geometry at Salient magazine, a student magazine of Victoria University at Wellington.

Interview with Uzma Aslam Khan

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

The author of The Geometry of God will be on the Book Club Hour of KZOO, a radio station sponsored by the Japanese Cultural Center in Hawaii, Monday night, June 28, at 6:30.

The Geometry of God in Ploughshares

Friday, April 16th, 2010

In this spring’s Ploughshares, Akshay Ahuja reviews The Geometry of God:

Set in Pakistan, Uzma Aslam Khan’s novel is an eloquent rebuttal to its own character’s claim about modern Islam’s single-mindedness. Skipping across eras and registers of culture—and showing devotion to pleasures as diverse as Elvis Presley and the Mu’tazilites, Aflatoon (the Arabic name for Plato) and evolutionary biology—it is both an example of and an argument for the essential hybridity of every society. “A language is like a person or a whale,” Mehwish, one of Zahoor’s granddaughters, says, “it comes from something else…it is mixed not pure.” In Pakistan, which literally means “land of the pure,” this proves to be a dangerous sentiment for all the characters.

Read the whole review here

In Fragments: The Geometry of God with Uzma Aslam Khan

Friday, September 25th, 2009

uzmaweb1You’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.


Chopping onions, cooking ourselves

Monday, March 9th, 2009

“If I had the chance to inform US policy I would advise that agreeing to feed the weak to the strong means sooner or later we will have to cook ourselves.” —Uzma Aslam Khan

Two spots of bright in a week in which I’ve otherwise found myself glum (considering the dark economy, the incomprehensible numbers of dollars to be cut from school budgets already pared by decades of skewed priorities, the way some things don’t seem to be changing fast enough or likely to change at all—how are we going to invade Afghanistan and rescue the world economy at the same time? how long? how long?)

One: Uzma Aslam Khan, whose novel The Geometry of God we’re bringing out in September, has launched—no, let’s scratch the military metaphors; let’s just scratch them—has stirred up two strengthening tonics for us who are weak in her interview on World Pulse and her essay about the Swat Valley and the Taliban. I was glad Uzma introduced us to both these organizations—World Pulse, which covers “global issues through the eyes of women,” and the World Can’t Wait, “which organizes people living in the United States to repudiate and stop the fascist direction initiated by the Bush regime.” And glad for the clarity and vision she distills in her words.

4904Two: The current issue of the Massachusetts Review is a special issue devoted to Grace Paley, of whom Vivian Gornick once wrote, perfectly: “People love life more because of her writing.” I’ve never before read a literary journal from start to finish; Paley’s particular mix of generosity, humor, steely vision, and freeing outrage is still, it turns out, just what I need.

“In a fury of tears and disgust, he wrote on the near blacktop in pink flamingo chalk—in letters fifteen feet high, so the entire Saturday walking world could see—WOULD YOU BURN A CHILD? and under it, a little taller, the red reply, WHEN NECESSARY.
And I think that is exactly when events turned me around… directed out of that sexy playground by my children’s heartfelt brains, I thought more and more and every day about the world.” —from “Faith in a Tree” by Grace Paley