Everything changes for nine-year-old Sana Shah as she witnesses the horror of her father’s assassination. she suffers through the pain of losing him, and realizing the worth of lessons learnt from him as Pearls of Wisdom. The tragedy forces Sana to leave her home in Pakistan, and traverse the globe to California. As time passes, she remains tormented by her memories as she struggles to rediscover her identity in a foreign land. Keen on pursuing journalism, she attends Stanford, where she meets a law student, Ahmer. They are drawn together by their cultural heritage, as well as their shared experience of having lost and endured. He becomes the source of her happiness, as well as the catalyst in mending her strained relationship with her family. As the story unfolds, however, their lives become intertwined in unexpected ways, creating obstacles that might be impossible to overcome.
Spanning nearly two decades, and set against a backdrop of landmark political events in both Pakistan and America in recent history, The Lost Pearl is an emotional tale about the strength of the human bond and the consequences of a truth left untold.
“The Lost Pearl” by Lara Zuberi was a precious find for me, a rare ‘pearl’ if you forgive the pun.
The book tells about a girl’s love for her father, his assassination in their native Pakistan not long after its independence and the consequences of this tragedy for her life. The mother re-marries and the girl, Sana, moves to California to her aunt in protest of the marriage.
Told in beautiful prose and with melancholic sadness we live through Sana’s experience as an immigrant, student and a young woman and her futile attempts to let go of the past and her grief.
I don’t want to spoil the experience for you by talking about the plot much more, but I must say that there will be a solution and answers for Sana, unexpected and therefore rewarding for the reader in more than one way.
The story is told with beautiful subtlety and love for its characters, I found it a very engaging read. Sana’s character develops pleasantly from slightly spoilt or ungrateful girl into a more realistic and mature woman, carefully and slowly set up by the author. The story felt so real, it was hard for me to separate my idea of the author from the main character which for me is the ultimate achievement in writing a good character.
This is a great story and amazing Literary Fiction by an author to watch.
Interview with Lara Zuberi:
Tell us a little something about yourself as both a person and an author. What made you decide to be a writer?
I wrote my first story at the age of seven, and my parents sent it to the children’s newspaper where it was published. I wanted to be a writer since then, but found myself enticed by the world of medicine, and became a doctor instead. Once I had a moment to take a break from work and reflect on my childhood dream, it came back to me. It also occurred to me recently that my parents picked my name from Dr. Zhivago, so a novel was maybe written in my destiny, as it was written in my name.
What inspired you to write this story?
My mother always said I should write again. My friend from second grade reminded me during one of our chats about old days, that I had wanted to write a novel. Once I started, it became an addiction. I knew I wanted to have something with a moral message tucked into the story. Author-wise, I remember being really touched by The Kite Runner, and amazed to discover that Khaled Hosseini was a physician—a thought that stayed with me as a reminder that being an author while being a physician was possible. In my small way I paid tribute by allowing this novel to become a gift to Sana from Ahmer.
Are there any parallels between Sana and yourself?
Well, we grew up together, we are the same age; we remember the political events occurring as they did. We lived in similar locations, though at different times in our lives. I was born in the States and moved to Pakistan when I was seven, and moved back at twenty-three. She and I have strong family values, but she is stubborn, bitter, rebellious and brave, which I am not. Her personality is shaped by her misfortunes, an experience that is luckily in sharp contrast to mine. I am more like her mother, a conformist; her aunt, a nurturer; and her brother who decided to pursue the path of medicine. I do feel that she is a real person, though, and I have forgiven her shortcomings, as I would a sister’s.
Do you still have ties to Pakistan?
Very much. I am close to my husband’s family, and they are settled in Pakistan. I visit every year, and the portions in the book wrapped in nostalgia are very real in terms of what I miss about the place I grew up in. Despite the insecurities, there is still a pull, which is hard to define. I wanted to depict the Pakistani who has empathy, rather than what is portrayed in the media, and a Pakistani with values more representative of Pakistanis in general, rather than the westernized (or extremist) version depicted in other novels based in Pakistan. It is said that at the touch of love, one becomes a poet; similarly I think when one migrates from one’s country of origin, one becomes an author. It does something to you, which is unique and thought-provoking. Almost every author biography I have read (yours included) has had some entanglement with migration.
How do you come up with your ideas?
The basic ideas just come. The small details come from observations of every day life. I don’t write on any schedule. The pivotal scene in the book is in a prison cell. I happened to visit a Florida prison as part of a job interview while I was writing the book, and I used some of the descriptions, although the described prison is in Pakistan. I had a dream about my husband taking me on horseback towards a mountain, and I used that to describe a dream that Sana had about Ahmer.
What would you say is the central message of your book?
The central message is written in the title, and is really that one should regard one’s parents’ words as what they are—pearls, before it’s too late and they are lost—and the importance of truth. The smaller messages are about justice, courage and forgiveness. I have touched on the ills of smoking, alcohol and gun violence , which seems like a lot, hopefully didn’t sound like I was preaching.
How did you write this book: Did you have the story ready or did it unfold during writing?
I thought of the basic outline, but a lot of it unfolded as I wrote. I wanted guilt to be the predominant emotion, so that’s what gave birth to the plot. I also wanted it to be a love story, and something that was appropriate for all ages. The characters developed on their own without my conscious interference. I rewrote many times in order to polish the manuscript and correct the errors that were invisible while writing the first draft. The 9/11 scene I filled in afterwards, because I felt I couldn’t omit something that had such a profound impact on so many levels. I was in the States on 9/11, and I was visiting Pakistan when bin Laden was captured there. It was my niece who posed the question that Sana’s son did that day, “Who was Osama bin Laden?”
What is your writing environment like?
I am not fussy about environment. When the ink flows, I can write anywhere, and when it doesn’t, even the ideal setting doesn’t work, so on those days I don’t even try. I have written sitting at a lake, I have written at four in the morning, I have written at the coffee shop. I once wrote on a tissue paper, because I was visiting my parents and I didn’t know where to find paper right away, and just couldn’t let the thought slip away.
How do you find the experience of self-publishing?
It gives you all the rights, which is good. It allows you to publish in a timely fashion, which is also good. The main disadvantage is the ridiculous number of books in the market today, without sufficient prerequisite for quality. That makes it difficult to get it to stores and reviewers, who don’t have the time to sort through books to determine which ones have substance. Also, you have the sole responsibility of marketing, and if you are not doing it full time, it’s hard to get the word out.
What else would you like us to know about yourself and the book?
I have said that I wrote this book not because I wanted to, but rather because I needed to. It was, for me an incredible journey that I travelled, one that made me grow as a person. I am donating 20% royalty to charity, and this will go up to 50% soon. I chose underprivileged cancer patients to help, since I have seen their suffering closely, and have been disturbed by the discrepancies between healthcare for the rich and the poor.
What is your next project and where would we be able to find out about it?
I am not the kind of author who writes for the sake of writing, or who can write every day. Fortunately, it is not my source of income, so I can afford to do it at leisure. I hope to write another novel, because I enjoy it tremendously, but I think it will take a few years. I also think it’s important for an author to take a break from writing in order to read plenty of books, which takes time if you have another profession. I want to write something from a poor girl’s perspective, someone like Zareen, perhaps, who had a minor role in this novel.
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