#DesiBooks10QA: Dur e Aziz Amna on writing unfettered from the burden of foreignness

About the author

Dur e Aziz Amna grew up in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, and now lives in Newark, USA. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Dawn, and Al Jazeera, and has won the 2021 Salam Award and the 2019 Financial Times / Bodley Head Essay Prize. She graduated from Yale College and the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan. Her debut novel, American Fever, launched in August 2022.

About the book

American Fever is a compelling and laugh-out-loud funny novel about adolescence, family, otherness, religion, and the push-and-pull of home. On a year-long exchange program in rural Oregon, a Pakistani student, sixteen-year-old Hira, must swap Kashmiri chai for volleyball practice and try to understand why everyone around her seems to dislike Obama. A skeptically witty narrator, Hira finds herself stuck between worlds. The experience is memorable for reasons both good and bad; a first kiss, new friends, racism, Islamophobia, and homesickness. Along the way, Hira starts to feel increasingly unwell until she begins coughing up blood, and receives a diagnosis of tuberculosis, pushing her into quarantine and turning her newly established home away from home upside down.

Dur e Aziz Amna’s debut novel, American Fever, is a compelling, laugh-out-loud novel about adolescence, family, otherness, religion, and the push-and-pull of home. #DesiBooks10QA @DesiBooks


1. The desi book that made you want to be a writer (or changed your life.)

I’m a bit of a broken record about this, but I don’t think I would be writing, or at least writing the way I do, without the influence of Faiz Ahmed Faiz. It feels strange to trace lineage to one of the most significant voices in Urdu verse in the past century—because, of course, anyone who has read Urdu poetry has likely been influenced by Faiz—but I vividly remember my first encounter with his poetry. I was young, far too young to understand what many of his Persianized Urdu words meant, but there was a state of near-vertigo reading his verses, being powerless and hypnotized by them. I myself write only prose, and so it’s been interesting for me to understand how his influence has bled into my work. I think there’s a certain sensibility and a particular way of melding emotion with atmosphere that I have tried to take from him.

The book that changed Dur e Aziz Amna’s life: “…I don’t think I would be writing, or at least writing the way I do, without the influence of Faiz Ahmed Faiz.” #DesiBooks10QA @DesiBooks

2. The desi book that your own latest book is most in conversation with and why.

John Gardner allegedly said there are only two plots in all of literature. You go on a journey or a stranger comes to town. When I think of American Fever, I consider it equal parts both. The protagonist Hira goes on the moral and psychological journey of the traditional bildungsroman. At the same time, she is a Pakistani stranger who arrives in a rural town in Oregon. So, American Fever shares thematic space with two kinds of novels. There are desi coming-of-age books I have read, such as Aangan by Khadija Mastur (Women’s Courtyard in English translation by Daisy Rockwell) and Dastak Na Do by Altaf Fatima (The One Who Did Not Ask in English translation by Rukhsana Ahmed), that dwell on similar themes of a young woman coming to terms with the world around her and its strange and often unfair stipulations. On the other hand, there is the stranger-comes-to-town tradition of Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, Monica Ali’s Brick Lane, Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and many more.

“…American Fever shares thematic space with two kinds of novels […] desi coming-of-age […] stranger-comes-to-town tradition […]” ~Dur e Aziz Amna #DesiBooks10QA @DesiBooks

3. The desi book that doesn’t exist (to your knowledge) but you’d love to read.

It’s hard for me to answer this because there are so, so many fantastic-sounding desi books that I know exist, and that I haven’t gotten around to reading. For example, I very recently learned of Dasht-e-Soos, a historical novel by Jameela Hashmi that re-imagines the story of the Persian mystic Mansur Hallaj, famous for his declaration, “I am the Truth,” for which he was executed on charges of blasphemy. Jameela’s retelling pays special attention to Aghul Gaimish, the woman Mansur was in love with. Mansur Hallaj is such a distinctive part of Sufi mythology, but to imagine a book that puts the spotlight on his lover? It blew my mind when I found out about it. My point is—and you could call it a failure of imagination—there is way too much that I have not read for me to imagine what I would love to read instead.

4. The desi book that you’re currently reading or planning to read soon.

I recently read Sarah Thankam Mathews’ All This Could Be Different and Aamina Ahmed’s The Return of Faraz Ali, which were both absolutely stunning debuts in very different ways. I have had Amrita Pritam’s autobiography, Raseedi Ticket (The Revenue Stamp in English translation by Krishna Gorowara), on my bookshelf for a while, and hope to get to it soon. I also want to give a shout-out to Urdu Studio, which has an excellent collection of Urdu books on Audible. I’ve ‘read’ most of their books and highly recommend them though I have a couple more to get through.

5. The desi book that you believe should be read and known more and why.

This is an interesting question because to me, it always invites a second one: under-appreciated by whom? My father sends episodic essays about growing up in a small Potohari town over Whatsapp, and those chapters are circulated like hotcakes all over town. The point is that things usually find their audience.

Last summer I went down a rabbit hole of South Asian academic and literary theory writing that completely rewired my brain. Generally, I think that creative writers, particularly fiction writers, should read more theory. There’s an odd insularity that mainstream American and American-influenced fiction circles encourage—of reading only contemporary fiction, which is unproductive and probably leads to terrible writing. I found Aamir Mufti’s Forget English!, Aijaz Ahmad’s In Theory, and Maryam Wasif Khan’s Who is a Muslim? to be really fascinating reads that questioned a lot of my assumptions about South Asian, specifically North Indian and Pakistani, literature.

Dur e Aziz Amna (debut novel: American Fever) on desi books that should be read more: “…Aamir Mufti’s Forget English!, Aijaz Ahmad’s On Theory, and Maryam Wasif Khan’s Who is a Muslim?” #DesiBooks10QA @DesiBooks

6. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Read widely, be humble.

#writingtip from Dur e Aziz Amna (debut novel: American Fever): “Read widely, be humble.” #DesiBooks10QA @DesiBooks

7. While writing your latest book, how did you keep yourself motivated to keep going despite setbacks (if any)?

While the book had an easy time in the UK, it languished for several months in submission purgatory on the American side, before finding a great home with my editor, Lilly Golden. It helped that the champions I had on my side, including my wonderful agent, Matt Turner, kept seeing value in it despite the entire publishing world saying otherwise. It also helped that I had a child during that time. There’s only so much you can crib about cutely worded rejections when there’s a little baby with far more immediate and physical needs by your side.

Another thing that I am just now thinking of. Much before I began writing fiction, I spent my teenage years submitting freelance pieces to a youth magazine in Pakistan and what that did for me was invaluable: it alerted me, in my formative years, to an audience that I know exists for my work, no matter what Western publishing might say. Even though the magazine was in English, writing for it allowed me to be unfettered from the burden of foreignness one inevitably experiences in the US. And that confidence has carried over to my older years.

Dur e Aziz Amna on writing her novel, American Fever: “… submitting freelance pieces to a youth magazine in Pakistan […] alerted me, in my formative years, to an audience that I know exists for my work…” #DesiBooks10QA @DesiBooks

8. With this latest book, what does “literary success” mean to you?

I’m only starting out, so I don’t want to load a truck full of expectations on my debut novel. I simply want it to enable me—monetarily, psychologically, and creatively—to continue to produce the kind of work that I wish to.

9. How have larger literary citizenship efforts or the writing community helped you with this latest book?

It depends a lot on the stage of the book-writing process that you are in. In the very early days, when I was still working on committing to the project, being part of writing groups or classes such as Catapult and Sackett Street in New York was tremendously useful in providing confidence. Then, as the draft progressed, help and advice from fewer, trusted readers became a lot more important.

Dur e Aziz Amna on how #writingcommunity helped with her novel, American Fever: “… being part of writing groups or classes […] was tremendously useful in providing confidence.” #DesiBooks10QA @DesiBooks

10. What would you most like readers to take away from this latest book?

I promise I don’t mean to be evasive but I genuinely believe the book stops belonging to me in a certain way as soon as another person picks it up and reads it. Whatever conclusions are to be drawn, whatever “lessons” and ideas about the world the reader leaves with, is between her and the page.


Dur e Aziz Amna’s debut novel, American Fever, was out in August 2022. More information at her website.

Dur e Aziz Amna’s debut novel, American Fever, is a compelling, laugh-out-loud novel about adolescence, family, otherness, religion, and the push-and-pull of home. #DesiBooks10QA @DesiBooks


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