Hugh Eakin in the New York Review of Books:
Rarely has an event framed around books and ideas felt so urgent. A few weekends ago, a group of writers, artists, and editors gathered in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab heartland, to defend the written word. People turned up from every part of the country to hear them—Karachi and Islamabad, but also Balochistan and the remote tribal regions along the Afghan frontier. Sometimes filling the aisles and stairways of the three venues where the gathering was held, they listened to debates on everything from the future of the novel to the future of Pakistan.
In an age in which international literary festivals have become commonplace, there is very little ordinary about the Lahore LitFest, starting with the location. “PK! What are you doing there?” a US immigration official wondered, when I set out from New York. My barber asked me if I had a bullet-proof vest. Even in the Middle East, in places that have plenty of tension of their own, a Pakistani destination seems to raise red flags. “It would be a shame if you got yourself kidnapped,” an Arab journalist who covers political unrest told me, during a visit to the Arabian Peninsula two days before my journey on to Lahore.
To anyone who has actually been there, such reactions may seem grossly unfair. With a sizable liberal elite, a strong tradition in publishing and the arts, and an old city filled with extraordinary Mughal architecture, Lahore arguably has more in common with the leading cities of India and Europe than with the dark image of Pakistan shown almost daily in the news.