Pakistan the Unreal

Aatish Taseer in Foreign Policy:

111220_111220_IOW_lead_SalmanToorPaintingpkIn December 2010 I sent off the changes to my first work of fiction set in Pakistan. I should say published work because really I was concluding a writing cycle that, having begun 10 years before with a failed novel, had led me to nonfiction and memoir before bringing me full circle back to the novel. The looping lessons of this journey were what formed my earliest ideas of fiction and nonfiction in the special context of writing about Pakistan, a place where reality often dwarfs the best efforts of the imagination.

My relationship to the country has always been a complicated one. My father was Pakistani, but I had grown up away from him in New Delhi with my mother and had known neither him nor his country until the age of 21, when I first went to Lahore to seek him out. That time of great personal upheaval coincided with my first wish to be a writer, and knowing next to nothing about the mechanics of fiction but seduced by its glamour, I sat down to write a novel about the experience.

It was an abysmal failure, a baggy black hole of a book. I tried to calm my well-founded fears about it by taking comfort in the urgency and relevance of the real-world circumstances that had inspired the novel. But no outside reality, no matter how compelling, can rescue a work of fiction that doesn't work on its own terms. A writer needs distance if he is to create an autonomous fictional world in which the complexities of lived experience are distilled; he cannot still be in the throes of the experience he is writing about.

More here.