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Thursday, 16 November 2017

On Why I Shamelessly Promote My Book

   It's been a month since the release of my book, and I find myself constantly promoting the book by whatever means I can think of, including social media. I do this, not just for selfish reasons, though I will admit to those, but because my publishing house, Mawenzi House publishes diverse voices.  Publishing is a tough business. All those books on bookshelves at your local bookstores get shipped back to the publisher if they do not sell, at the publisher's cost. Publishers will publish what they believe will sell, which is why not enough people of colour are published. Most people don't read books, and when they do read, they read for information (non-fiction) or entertainment (The Fifty Shades Trilogy). This is why non-fiction is an easier sell than fiction. Writers of genre fiction; science fiction, fantasy, romance, erotica, etc, have an easier time getting published than writers of literary fiction.
   Hardly anyone reads literary fiction. And practically no one, reads literary fiction, which features female protagonists. Even female readers for whatever peculiar reason prefer reading stories with strong, male protagonists. Nearly all of the people who bought Fifty Shades were women. Even within literary fiction, novels are more popular than short story collections.
   There were other publishing houses who showed an interest in my stories, but when the editorial board got together, the marketing team always shot my collection down. People do not like to buy short story collections.
   Put all of this together, and you have my book; literary fiction, a short story collection in which nearly all of the protagonists are women, and all of the stories concern Pakistanis/Muslims (a minority group in this part of the world).
  Add to that, my opening story is about a suicide bomber who I have tried to humanize, because while I hate violence of any sort, I also hate - hate. A thirteen year-old boy who becomes a suicide bomber is still a kid. He is a human being, and as sorry as I am, for the result of his brainwashing, I do also feel sorry for him.
  That my book got published at all is a miracle of sorts, except in my case, I know who is responsible for my miracle. Nurjehan Aziz, my publisher, is my miracle worker, and I do hope for her sake, as much as for my own, that this book sells. I do not want those copies shipped back at a cost to her.
  If I still haven't convinced you to get your hands on my book, that's fine (not really!), but do read and not just what's in fashion, but widely, stretching your net to the unlikeliest of spots and take time to tarry there for a bit.

 If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” 

Haruki Murakami

ThingsSheCouldNeverHave-Mawenzi House




Monday, 6 November 2017

Stringent Measures

  Another day of senseless violence; twenty-six people dead in a church in Texas, just a few days after eight were mowed down in Manhattan, a month after fifty-eight were killed when a gunman opened fire during a concert in Las Vegas. The number killed varies, as do the locations, but the way most people react to the violence remains the same. There is grief as there should be. The numbers do not convey the loss of each individual or the impact on the families and friends. But there is also digging around for explanations, seeking motivations for the violence, and blame.
  A white man shooting people is a "lone gunman." A man with a Muslim sounding name is a "terrorist."
  The white man "acted alone" due to "mental illness." The Muslim man is a representative of all the Muslims on the planet, and all of us so called Muslims find ourselves hanging our heads in shame, as if we are all somehow complicit in the lunacy of the man who took it upon himself to drive a van into innocent pedestrians.
  A few years back, I read The Inconvenient Indian, A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King and much in that book stayed with me. In particular, this sentence: "They get to make their mistakes as individuals and not as representatives of an entire race." That sentence resonated back then, and still does right now, except the extend of the punishment is larger.
  Muslims are not a race. We come in all colours. Mostly, brown, sure, but not always brown. We can be black and surprise, surprise, even white.We come in different flavours too. The devout ones like my grandmothers. The atheists, like the ones dearest to me in my family because I understand their doubts, and then of course, there are the agnostics like me; happy to sit on the fence and watch the game, content to play both sides from time to time, as long as we don't have to decide on whether we believe or not.
  But I am digressing from my main complaint, which is not other people's inability to spot us correctly in a crowd, though that does hurt, (After all, if you are going to discriminate, at least do so, in a somewhat educated manner) but other people's insistence on lumping all Muslims together as if we are all the same.
  Here's some news: Gather together a hundred Muslims and you will find a hundred  different individuals with differing opinions on everything including their own religion.
  Why is it that the white man is always a "lone wolf," while the insane brownish-looking man is somehow always ascribed to belonging to a lager pack of Muslims? The deaths in Manhattan were followed by Trump openly talking about the folly of the "diversity visa lottery" and the need for more stringent checks. The implication being that peaceful Americans need to be kept safe from dangerous people, who vaguely resemble my father, my brother, my husband, and now, my 16-year-old son.
Just the other day, my sixteen-year-old decided on a bike ride with a friend all the way to downtown Toronto from our home in North York and my husband and I panicked. It was dark and he had been gone a while. He returned safe and sound and we heaved a sigh of relief, but when we were driving around looking for him and I saw a police car, my first thought was that my son is brown, has a Muslim name, and is nearly six-feet tall. In the dark, a boy his size, bearing his name, might be regarded as a threat. The police car did nothing to reassure me.
  Here's something from another favourite book, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra: "The trees they passed repeated on and on into the woods. None was remarkable when compared to the next, but each was individual in some small regard: the number of limbs, the girth of the trunk, the circumference of shed leaves encircling the base. No more than minor particularities, but minor particularities were what transferred two eyes, a nose, and a mouth into a face."

My greatest fear is that some day, someone might look into my child's face, and instead of seeing him; the big, brown eyes under the high arching eye brows, the small nose, which adds to rather than detracts from, the larger beauty of his face, the stubborn chin, and the high cheekbones, all they will see is a person who kind of fits into their typecast of a Muslim man and therefore, a potential threat.

And how I wish that Trump's wish for more stringent checks comes true. The world needs more stringent checks on who gets to lead the most powerful country on the planet.