Review of Trespassing, by Uzma Aslam Khan, Picador, 2003
Uzma Aslam Khan’s character driven tale of two young Pakistanis, Trespassing, lays out in sweaty detail the tension between the old adage “you can’t go home again” and the one that says you can take the Pakistani out of Pakistan, but you can’t take the Pakistan out of the Pakistani.
Through Daanish, a Pakistani studying in American, and Dia, the precocious daughter of a silk merchant, Khan explores the interplay between tradition and modernization, culture and prejudice.
Structurally, Khan’s book is told in alternating points of view. This works well for the novel because the characters are intriguing enough that the reader doesn’t mind the same events being told over by several characters. It also works well because the books ultimate destination isn’t where the reader might predict at the outset. It becomes apparent only about halfway through the novel that Khan is weaving a complex web of disparate people and events that slowly rise toward the climax of the story. The meaning of the title of the novel doesn’t become clear until you reach the center of the story web.
The picture of Pakistan painted by Khan is different than the stark and exotic desert landscapes of many recent books set in the Middle East. The setting is overwhelmingly suburban, mostly taking place in a Daanish’s depressing middle-class house in a neighborhood plagued by a lack of dependable utilities like water and electricity. With a few exceptions, the landscapes of this novel are of human nature.
Khan, raised in Karachi, Pakistan, succeeds in producing inner-dialogues of the important characters that ring true across cultural divides, while maintaining the texture of authentic Pakistani tradition.