Author M. Salahuddin Khan of Siknader has agreed to do an interview with I HEART BOOKS!
When I asked Mr. Khan the following questions he had this to say:
1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Yes, I’m a management consultant turned author. I was born in 1952 in Pakistan to parents who were made refugees following the partition of British India and who fled from Delhi in 1947. I moved to England at the age of four and grew up and was educated there. I graduated in 1973 with a Bachelors in Aeronautics and Astronautics. I came to the US for the first time in 1972 to witness Apollo 16’s launch to the moon and fell in love with the country from that time. I made several trips here until finally in 1988 I moved with my wife and three sons. Within six years we added three daughters to the brood.
Career-wise, I became Chief Technology Officer of Computervision in Bedford, MA and CTO at NAVTEQ in Chicago, IL. I was the Senior VP for Global Marketing and Strategy when I left NAVTEQ in 2007 to pursue some dreams at the age of 55. None of them included writing a novel, however, and I surprised myself when the idea for it came to me in something of a flashbulb moment at the end of 2009.
2. What inspired you to write Sikander?
There were several factors at work I think, some of them deeply rooted.
I grew up as the only non-white person and only Muslim in my entire grade-school and high-school life. I was almost always an outside observer and became really familiar with being misunderstood. Then came the events of 9/11 and I increasingly saw more and more mainstream media and public opinion sharing views about Muslims which I couldn’t relate to or recognize. The flashpoint came when I saw a movie (it must have been the fourth or fifth time) of Victor Hugo’s timeless Les Misérables. I was struck by the themes of misunderstanding that this universally relevant classic explored and thought about a story in similar terms but with my lens firmly on Guantanamo. The story blossomed from that thought into what it became, leaving the Guantanamo experience as its apex.
Ben Franklin once said that “the person who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither” and I think as a country, we’ve lost our way on this simple point. Sadly, it isn’t the only point where we’ve become untethered from our founding principles, and its begun to change the core idea of “who we are” when we’re defined by the behavior we’ve permitted in our name. I think that core essence has morphed in the last 10 years and it was something I wanted to explore, but without caricaturing Americans or the Muslims of Afghanistan and Pakistan. I like Thomas Friedman’s views on this when he talks about getting back to “who we are.” We’re not there right now and I hope SIKANDER helps in its own small way for us to see that.
3. Is there any of yourself in Sikander or any of the other characters?
Sikander’s personality shares many aspects with my own. I can thankfully say his experiences are generally not mine though being misunderstood, having yearned to live in America, retained a Muslim sense of self, and in a few other ways those experiences are similar. He’s a thinking Muslim with some hands-on experience of life as am I.
4. How old were you when you realized you were truly interested in writing?
I eased into it. I was 54 when I was asked to become the publisher of ISLAMICA Magazine which was aimed at revealing a more intellectually vibrant and textured side of Islam in the world today. Its obectives resonated with me so I took it on. I then took to writing on a variety of topics on the website helium.com though I don’t do that much now. Then finally the novel idea came to me and so I took that on too. I was almost 58 at the time and had never written anything fictional. I love it and am itching to complete the next two works.
5. Are you currently working on any novels?
Two are taking shape as we speak and it’s almost like a horse race as to which will crystallize first. When one of them does, I imagine I’ll be the same frenzied person I was when I completed a pre-edit manuscript in six weeks for SIKANDER. The front runner right now is actually the sequel, a story about the character of Rabia. I feel her inside me urging me to convey the story of her continuing and remarkable transformation.
6. Sikander was first published in 2010. What changes have been added to this new edition?
The 4th edition is due out in April, 2012, and will include a Foreword by renowned expert on modern Islam, professor and former ambassador, Akbar Ahmed, who teaches at the American University in Washington D.C. He’s also made numerous appearances on CNN, Fox, Oprah, MSNBC, BBC and al-Jazeera English, as well as having several books, novels and works of poetry himself.
Other changes have been to compress the language without changing the story while at the same time enlarging upon the way the relationship between Rabia and Sikander takes shape and matures. The new edition will be almost 120 pages shorter than the original but there are no meaningful eliminations from the story. Lastly, the maps are placed in the main body of the story as they become relevant, and shortened explanations of glossary terms are now footnoted when they occur on a given page. This is done up to a maximum of the first five pages on which any such word occurs. Thereafter, the much more in-depth Glossary section remains a valuable and interesting point of reference if the reader still needs to look it up.
7. What should readers expect by reading Sikander?
It’s a coming of age story in the bildungsroman style. I’d also say it is very character driven but with the ever-present “scaffolding” of world events and the way they touch the lives of those characters in a classic historical fiction narrative. It’s also a human story, where I’ve deliberately avoided creating deeply relatable western characters (at least for the first three-quarters of the book) so as to try to lift the reader out of their chair and become a fully immersed participant. That way, living alongside such “alien” people gives the reader a truer sense of what it is like to be the “other” and thereby wash away the “otherness” leaving behind the residue of our shared humanity.
For me the story also has two main parts. The first ten chapters are about defining the character of Sikander as he undergoes an accelerated adolescence brought about by natural conflicts as well as warfare. The second part is the story of his life’s purpose and ambition where he undergoes several challenges which shake his very sense of who he is.
8. Why did you decide to wrte a historical fiction novel?
The nature of the story and my wish to make certain points about our present condition as a country and people in geopolitical as well as human terms made no other choice possible. Other genres can do this too, I even think Battlestar Galactica (2003 version) makes numerous allegorical references to the post-9/11 era, but I wanted a more direct reference to the Muslim / America relationship which is a big deal in the world today. Besides, it was great to have real events and people “taken care of” and only requiring research to learn and write about them. I didn’t have to conjure up an entire world. I admire Tolkein and Rowling among others for their skills in doing that.
9. Is there anything else you'd like to say to readers?
Although there is a social message in the story, I hope readers also enjoy it for the exotic nature of the places and people and the adventures they have that most of us will never experience. I’d like them to say “Wow! I never knew that!” as often as possible and to feel good about these new insights. I’d like them to see Muslims differently than they might have with just media stereotypes, and to “feel Muslim” for a while but in the sense that the vast majority of the world’s mainstream Muslims feel in being flawed characters living through their values, hopes, fears, and dreams.
I would also like my female readers to feel inspired by the parallel story of Rabia, the poor Afghan village widow’s daughter who becomes an upper-middle-class wife in suburban America, in many ways reflecting the immigrant’s view of the American dream and how the utterly improbable becomes reality.
And now for my review! :D Special thanks to Samantha Lien from JKS for the review copy!
Review: Because I normally read and review paranormal young adult novels, I was hesitant in accepting a historical fiction novel. I'm glad I said yes! The maps and glossary included were very helpful as this book has many foreign expressions.
The characters, I found, were written excellently! They all had such depth and great personalities. There were humorous moments, sad moments, and every expression was written so that me, as the reader, was feeling the emotions. The only thing was that many of the names were quite similar - although I'm aware that's part of teh culture, it was slightly confusing sometimes when trying to understand who was speaking. But I also found that that really didn't take much away from the book.
Sikander was also full of action! The war scenes had me on the edge of my seat, white knuckling the book! It gave me such a new look on on war and what it does to poeple and families. It made me realize how fortunate I am to have a whole and happy family - because so many don't.
But the deaths and sadness that war caused was balanced out by the love in the novel. The love between family, friends, and also the new relationships that turned to marriage. So yes, the love that blossomed was a nice reprieve from the the devastating destruction of war. It was quite interesting to learn so much about another culture and their customs.
Oh and be forewarned - the end of the novel made me cry and will probably make you cry too!
Overall, Sikander was not only a great historical fiction novel, it was also, in its own way, educational! If you enjoy historical books then I suggest you give this one a try. Thank you so much to Mr. Khan for the interview and also again to Samantha Lien who has been my contact for not only Sikandder, but also some other great reads such as Trial of Tears!