A Love Letter to the Wilds
Madhumita Chakraborty
THINNER THAN SKIN by Uzma Aslam Khan Fourth Estate, New Delhi, 2013, 345 pp., 499
February 2013, volume 37, No 2-3

Thinner than Skin, my first engagement with Uzma Aslam Khan’s work has been a beautiful experience. Truly, there is no other word to describe her writing, which is well-researched as well as derived from her personal experiences. The novel, now shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize, takes us on a vivid, kaleidoscopic journey through the mountains of Pakistan. The naked and pristine beauty of nature, where absolutely exquisite descriptions are provided of glaciers mating, where life is simple, in spite of many hurdles, is juxtaposed with the harsh realities of urban life in San Francisco, in spite of its ‘cliffs and cypresses’, where Nadir the protagonist has to work at multiple jobs to make ends meet, where mugging and dacoity are common occurences.

There are three stories interwoven into the narrative of the novel. At one level, there is the story of Nadir and Farhana, two intrinsically opposite souls, as they undertake a journey into the mountainous terrain of Pakistan—the Kaghan region—the northern territories, where Pakistanis, Uzbeks, Russians, Chinese and Afghans come together to trade. They are accompanied in this quest by Nadir’s childhood friend Irfan and Farhana’s friend Wes.

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