Books: M. Salahuddin Khan’s Sikander

Posted on August 7, 2010
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Books, People
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Adil Najam

(UPDATE: M. Salahuddin Khan’s Sikander (2010), was recently awarded the top prize for general fiction as well as the Grand Prize across all genres at the 2010 Los Angeles Book Festival. ATP congratulates the author on his continued success and the accolades that his debut novel is garnering).

M. Salahuddin Khan’s debut novel, Sikander (2010), is a simple tale, simply told. But it is also a grand narrative of grand events. It is the story of a single individual, but also of civilizational angst. (Visit book’s website here).

The intensity of the book derives from the everyday human struggles of the book’s title character, but it is all wrapped up within layers of global strategy, international intrigue, and a deep sense of history. It is this very dialectic – the unfolding of  grand historical drama and the pains and passions of one individual unwittingly caught in the midst of that drama – that makes this 550+ page epic a surprisingly quick read and something not easy to stop reading once you have begun.

Here are some of the essentials of the story (available in print and on Kindle):

It’s 1986. Sikander is a 17 year-old high school student in Peshawar, Pakistan with dreams of eventually living in America. In a moment of rage following a family incident, he decides to run away from home, leaving behind a very comfortable upper-middle class life. Encountering and joining some Afghan mujahideen warriors, in a struggle against Soviet forces that are occupying their country, he accompanies them across the mountains back to their remote village in neighboring Afghanistan.

American assistance is stepped up with advanced weapons such as the Stinger missile, and a mujahideen victory over the Soviet Union is finally achieved. After just two years of ghting since Sikander’s arrival, a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan takes place and Sikander returns a war-wise mujahideen hero, settling down to build a more normal life in Pakistan. Years later, happily married to his Afghan wife, Sikander, now a successful entrepreneur in Pakistan, nds his life abruptly turned upside down as he is swept up by the turbulent cross-currents of September 11, 2001. He must draw on all the lessons from his mujahideen past as he takes on a perilous journey reaching as far as America and changing his life forever…

As I have mentioned a number of times before, I am no longer much of a reader of fiction. But in these times when it is the daily news that sounds overly fanciful, maybe it is fiction that can give clarity to the reality what new pundits only confuse. This book clearly sets out to do exactly that. Indeed, there are times when it might be trying too hard to do so. But for most part, Sikander succeeds in reminding the reader that history is not just a collage of news snippets from far away, it is a reality that ordinary people have to live through. This is a book written for a purpose; a purpose that the Salahuddin Khan lays out explicitly in his preface:

…it is about being a citizen of the species. Sikander belongs nowhere in particular and everywhere in general. In spirit, he transcends cultures while being a product of his native culture. Sikander’s religion is a matter-of-fact aspect of daily life, informing decisions from the mundane to the seismic. It is thus a part of his daily existence and is neither hanging in a closet, only to be worn on Fridays, nor is it is a manic permanent resident of his frontal lobes.

Sikander also allows the reader an in-depth immersion into the “ordinary” nature of most of the world’s routinely lived Islam, which is far removed from the misconceptions sadly prevalent in much of the non-Muslim world. The story does not, however, intend an apologist perspective. Neither does it suggest that we have a simple “east-versus-west” narrative to consider. It simply forces us step into the ordinary lives of everyday Muslims while allowing us to be aware of the textured, varied, and nuanced hues of such life as practiced from rural Afghanistan to urban Pakistan as just two of the myriad locations and cultural settings where “ordinary” Islam happens today to be practiced. All of this is still within the mainstream camp, without venturing into radical or heretical renditions of the religion which also obviously exist.

The book, which came out last month, has already garnered some high praise. For example, Akbar S. Ahmed (author of Journey into Islam: the Crisis of Globalization and Journey into America: the Challenge of Islam) has this to say:

At last, a Pakistani novelist attempting a novel of the scope and scale of Gone with the Wind. M. Salahuddin Khan’s Sikander is a sprawling, fast moving and gripping novel that takes the reader through several decades and through several continents. In the tale of Sikander, we experience the tribal conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the problems of adjustment of the community as a minority in America today. For those looking for a good read while also learning about the world we live in, I strongly recommend Sikander.

The author, Salahuddin Khan, is a himself someone whose story should be written about one day. Born in Burewalla to emigrant parents soon after Partition, he migrated to the UK at age 4, studied aerospace design at Southamption, migrated to the US in 1972 and ended up at the Chief Technology Officer of a company called NAVTEC – the maker of digital maps for navigation that power things like mapquest and most automobile GPS devices.

A private investor and self-described ‘follower of dreams,’ Salahuddin has since been investing in a number of intriguing ventures, including a new line of high-end loudspeakers (Salagar) and an investment platform to purchase large quantities of single-family homes pending foreclosure using a mathematically determined short-sale pricing formula, and rent them back to the homeowner with the prospect of them repurchasing the home some years down the road (Lifeline). Sikander, and a passion for creative writing, is his newest ‘venture’, and one to which he has brought the same spirit of enterprise and innovation that he has exhibited elsewhere.

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32 responses to “Books: M. Salahuddin Khan’s Sikander

  1. Salahuddin says:

    Dear all,

    Thanks much for your congrats. As a follow up, one reader bought the book, read it and then asked to reach me by phone. He called and told me that the message in the book was something every American should be reading and as a published author himself, asked my permission to forward a recommendation to his publishers in New York. He also contacted a literary agent.

    The update is I’ve now signed on with the agent and we’re working on the publishing community to hopefully get a better funded promotional campaign from a major publishing house.

    Please pray for the book’s success.

  2. Humaira says:

    Nice to hear this. Always good when a Pakistani is recognized for something positive.

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