Monday, November 7, 2022

Q&A with Sorayya Khan


Photo by Barbara Adams



Sorayya Khan is the author of the new memoir We Take Our Cities with Us. Her other books include the novel City of Spies, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Guernica and North American Review. She lives in New York.


Q: Why did you decide to write this memoir, and over how long a period did you work on it?


A: The impetus for the book comes from a question that novelists are often asked: How much of your novel is true?


After my most recent novel, told in first person, as if memoir, I decided to tackle my story head on. My mother was dying by then and our world appeared particularly polarized. My mother was Dutch, my father was Pakistani, and I was keen to think about the multiplicity of my identity. I worked on We Take Our Cities with Us for about four years and completed my revisions during the pandemic.


Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the book says, in part, “Elegant and richly remembered, this offers a poignant tribute to the complex beauty of inherited histories.” What do you think of that description, and what do you think about the concept of inherited history?

A: The description resonates with me. Inherited histories influence our lives and how we define ourselves. Although we may not call it that, the concept is familiar to novelists who must consider a character’s behavior and trajectory in the context of where and what she has come from. Writing the memoir forced me to consider my own life – and my mother’s – in that context.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: The idea for the title belongs to my editor, Kristen Elias-Rowley, who persuaded me that my working title did not do the book justice. The phrase comes from a line in the memoir, a moment in which I’m reflecting on my young sons’ relationship to the world and wondering which cities will be important to them in their lives.


Q: How would you describe your relationship with your mother?


A: Loving and complicated, which I see as a tension that motivates and illuminates the memoir.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on a new novel about which I’d rather not say much except that I’m excited by it, and to my surprise, it does not feature Pakistan (a first for me).


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Paintings are an important part of my book. This is especially true of the Dutch painter Aelbert Cuyp’s Herder met een kudde schapen, which you can view here.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Sorayya Khan.

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