Rafia Zakaria interviews Steve Inskeep in Guernica:
In his new book on Karachi, Inskeep does begin with a bomb blast, but if America wants a unified story, Inskeep peels an onion: it is a layered narrative unraveling a difficult place that encompasses the familiar, the noxious, and the surprising. Inskeep’s departure is notable because the paradigm of the dark place was handed to him on a platter; his own introduction to the vast, intractable city was through none other than the trial of Daniel Pearl’s assassins. Inskeep traveled to Karachi for the first time in 2002 to cover the trial of men accused in the Pearl murder. The hearings in the city courts were a mess. It was hot, difficult to get around—a less than hospitable welcome from a hard-to-love city. But Inskeep continued to court Karachi, returning not once or twice but again and again. In that time, he did a series of NPR stories on the city, peeling away the epidermal violence to uncover the resilience required of those who live in it; this beside the ordinary, the human.
But breaking with paradigm does not mean evading the stark realities of a megacity at the heart of a conflicted country, beset with human detritus from nature’s wrath and remote-controlled drones. Treading this balance, Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi begins with a terrorist attack, but not one familiar to Americans, who at that time (December 2008) were preoccupied with the shoe bomber, an attack that never happened. This was, instead, an attack on a procession of Shia pilgrims. Taking the threads of that day, the victims and the ensuing arson, Inskeep is able to gather in words the story of a city of contradictions.