Uncovering Literary Gems by Pakistani Writers

Pakistan has been depicted through numerous Literary Gems. From its creation down to the current day, literature has told stories of how our culture and our people have been shaped by the circumstances surrounding them. Penned by talented authors who construct compelling narratives, here are a few books that depict an unfiltered reality of what life is like in Pakistan:

Literary Gems of Pakistan

1- Cracking India, Bapsi Sidhwa (1988)

Starting off the list with a story revolving around the Partition, Cracking India by Bapsi Sidhwa (originally published as Ice Candy Man), is an unfiltered account of the events surrounding the unceremonious division of the subcontinent through the lens of a young Parsi girl, Lenny Sethi. Through a nonpartisan prose weaved by Lenny, Bapsi Sidhwa paints a picture of the communal riots and the political upheaval during the time of the partition. Lenny sees people she knows and loves affected by the violence and everything comes to a head when her beloved nursemaid ‘Ayah’, is taken away by rioters.

The novel portrays the gritty realities of religious and ethnic violence surrounding the bloody time period. It manages to not take sides, as Lenny herself has not aligned herself with any of the warring communities. It is also laced with feminist notions. Cracking India doesn’t deal with facts, but rather than emotions of all the stakeholders involved in the war. It is a stellar read and really puts things in perspective, in an unbiased way.

2- Leila in the Wilderness, Nadeem Aslam (2010)

Published in the magazine Granta, Leila in the Wilderness is one of Nadeem Aslam’s best works. Dealing yet again with heavy themes, Aslam masterfully calls out the hypocrisies of our society with a magically realistic prose. Leila, a girl of mere fourteen years, is wed to a man and constantly reprimanded at her inability to produce a male heir. The themes of deep-rooted misogyny are explored through Timur, her husband, and Razia, her mother in law. Dark themes of violence and assault are explored, and the author imbues a sense of fantasy in the work through the juxtaposition of the traditional and the modern.  Leila in the Wilderness is a portrayal of the injustices dealt to women and exploitation for personal gain through a magically realistic lens, one that leaves you breathless and contemplating.

3- Salt and Saffron, Kamila Shamsie (2000)

Kamila Shamsie beautifully contrasts the local and the modern in her second book, Salt and Saffron. It follows the story of twenty-year-old Aliyah Dard-e-Dil, and her homecoming to Karachi after doing her masters in the States. The novel explores transcultural identities through Aliya’s experiences, and her struggles in coming to terms with the traditional notions held by the Dard-e-Dil clan. The older members of the clan glorify their past struggles and ancestry, while the newer generation seeks to dethrone deep rooted traditionalism. It deals with important issues like class stratification, social mobility and ultimately, not bowing to the pressure of what is perceived to be right. If any of these themes interests you, Salt and Saffron is definitely the book you should pick up.

4- Mushaf, Nimra Ahmed (2011)

Mushaf deals with religious themes and is masterfully told through the eyes of a young girl Mehmil. Mehmil is a young orphan who struggles to adjust in her extended family. After being disillusioned from everyone around her, she finds solace in the word of God. We see Mehmil’s character greatly progress from being despondent to being hopeful, as a result of her realisation of her own spirituality. The novel stresses on an internal interpretation of religion, instead of relying on external sources or dogmatic authorities. The novel follows a hopeful tone, promising a better outcome in life, but contingent on fashioning your life according to the decreed Word. The author also skillfully inserts verses pertinent to the circumstances in her writing, so one can recognize the timelessness of Quran and its solution of every problem no matter what the era. If you like delving into complex topics of self-realization through religion, look no further than this masterpiece!

This list of Literary Gems of Pakistani Literature is by no means an objective account. It nevertheless does contain some marvels of Pakistani literature. Our authors have always been praised for an unfiltered and raw mirroring of our society, knitted beautifully with their words. Daastan is proud of all our authors who have over time gained international acclaim for their works. We hope that our literary community gets propelled to heights greater than ever before!


Daastan is a literary forum working for revival of literature in Pakistan. We connect writers with opportunities for career growth.

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