My review of Uzma Aslam Khan’s Thinner Than Skin for The Friday Times.
Mountains in Love
To her credit, Uzma Aslam Khan recognizes the way Pakistan is stereotyped. “Where are the beggars and bazaars or anything that resembles your culture?” Nadir is asked by an interviewer examining his photographs. Almost as if in protest, the novel attempts to show the depth of cultures indigenous to the areas, and how there is far more complexity to it than foreign eyes can see. She is acutely aware of how well-meaning cultural condescending attitudes can do more harm than good (“You do not barge into a place thinking you can fix it. Who are you? Who are you? What makes you think you can do that?”). At the same time there are ruminations on the transcendence of human nature over languages and cultures. (“Do we desire and despise in the same sounds in all tongues?”)
Uzma Aslam Khan provides us with many gorgeous descriptions, such as the ritual of the mating of glaciers, which can only be watched after swearing an oath of silence, the various shamanistic practices of the nomads, and the striking anthropomorphic qualities of mountains, with the romance of Malika Parbat and Nanga Parbat making frequent appearances: