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Novelist Kamila Shamsie to speak on history, memory

As a 15 year old, novelist Kamila Shamsie lived through a pivotal moment in Pakistan’s history — the death of a dictator and the election of a woman as prime minister. Her new novel, Best of Friends, is shaped by those experiences in her hometown of Karachi and the long shadows they cast.

Shamsie will give a reading and lecture on the book on Friday, April 14, at this year’s Tagore Lecture from the South Asia Program (SAP), part of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies. Held at 4:45 p.m. in the Kahin Center, the lecture is titled “History, Memory and the Fictions of 1988.”

Kamila Shamsie will give the 13th annual Tagore Lecture. 

Best of Friends tells the story of a friendship that begins in Karachi in the 1980s during a time of political tumult. True to history, the death of dictator Zia-ul-Haq in 1988 leads to the election of 35-year-old Benazir Bhutto, the first woman elected to head a democratic government in a Muslim-majority country. Memories of this time in their lives follow the two friends into their adult lives in London.

“Kamila Shamsie is a leading writer of our time,” said Iftikhar Dadi, the Binenkorb Director of SAP. “She has brought her South Asian background to bear upon the most significant and existential issues that many of us face, whether living in South Asia or abroad.” Dadi is also the John H. Burris Professor in the College of Arts and Science’s Department of History of Art and Visual Studies.

Books will be available for sale and signing from Buffalo Street Books after the reading.

Shamsie is an award-winning author of eight novels translated into over 30 languages, including Home Fire, A God in Every Stone and Burnt Shadows. A vice president and fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and professor of creative writing at the University of Manchester, she was one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists in 2013.

The Rabindranath Tagore Lecture Series in Modern Indian Literature is made possible by a gift from the late Cornell Professor Emeritus Narahari Umanath Prabhu and his wife, Sumi Prabhu. Inspired by Rabindranath Tagore’s expansive imagination, unbounded by geopolitical boundaries, the series has regularly featured prominent writers from across South Asia and its diasporas.

Daniel Bass is program manager for the South Asia Program.

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