7 Best Pakistani Authors: Explore Pakistan’s Culture Through Its Most Acclaimed Authors

Discover our guide that looks at Pakistan’s rich and varied history with the best Pakistani authors and their most acclaimed novels.  

Pakistan did not officially become a nation in its own right until 1947, but it has a long and storied literary tradition. Its modern incarnation has roots in Urdu and Persian literature and is also deeply influenced by English literature and its history of British colonialism. Today, Pakistani literature draws from nearly all of the 77 established languages of that country, as well as its diverse cultural traditions. You might also enjoy the best 21st century authors!

Modern Pakistani literature is often focused on the effects of immigration and both geographical and cultural displacement. Other common themes include the treatment of women and children, the deeply entrenched class and feudal systems, and issues related to religious and ethnic disagreements.

Contemporary writers often strive to put a human face on the daily news by creating fictional characters who grapple with real-world events. Seeing these events through their characters’ eyes allows readers to understand the complexities of Pakistani society better.

Here Are The 7 Best Pakistani Authors: Explore Pakistan’s Culture

1. Bapsi Sidhwa, 1938 –

Bapsi Sidhwa
Bapsi Sidhwa via Wikipedia, Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0

Bapsi Sidhwa was two years old when she contracted Polio and nine years old when her country was divided into two nations, Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. This event sparked one of human history’s largest and most violent migrations and left a deep impression on young Sidhwa. This experience inspired her most popular novel, Ice Candy Man

Because of illness, Sidhwa was educated at home until she was 15. She then earned her bachelor’s degree from Kinnaird College for Women in Lahore and was married at 19 years old. Sidhwa endured numerous rejections of her first two novels before self-publishing and becoming an internationally acclaimed writer. She has since taught English and writing at several universities, including Brandeis, Columbia, and Mt. Holyoke. 

Ice Candy Man, also published as Cracking India, recounts the India Partition of 1947 through the eyes of its young protagonist, Lenny. Lenny is a happy little girl growing up in Lahore who, because she has Polio, studies at home with her beautiful young nanny, Ayah. From Ayah, Lenny learns about the religious differences driving India’s political turmoil. When Ayah is kidnapped, however, the violence becomes personal for Lenny and her family. You might also be interested in our guide on the best Lithuanian authors.

“There is much disturbing talk. India is going to be broken. Can one break a country? And what happens if they break it where our house is?”

Bapsi Sidhwa, Ice Candy Man
Ice Candy Man
  • Sidhwa, Bapsi (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 277 Pages - 04/18/1989 (Publication Date) - South Asia Books (Publisher)

2. Mohammed Hanif, 1964 –

Mohammed Hanif
Mohammed Hanif via Wikipedia, Hps-poll reserv-art.de, CC BY-SA 4.0

As a young child, Mohammed Hanif recalls the magic of being surrounded by stories. Mothers and grandmothers improvised bedtime tales, street salespeople drew in customers with anecdotes, and professional storytellers regaled party guests with thrilling yarns. It is not surprising then that when he graduated as a pilot from Pakistan Airforce Academy, Hanif decided to pursue writing rather than a military career. 

Hanif has been a correspondent for the BBC and The New York Times for several years. He has also published with the Washington Post, India Today, and The New Yorker. In addition to his journalism, Hanif has written four books, two plays, and the screenplay for the feature film, The Long Night. He is working on an opera in collaboration with American composer Mohammed Fairouz. 

Hanif’s debut novel, A Case of Exploding Mangos, is based on an actual event, the plane crash that killed Pakistan’s controversial president, General Zia, in 1988. At the time, there were numerous conspiracy theories about what might have caused the crash. Here, Hanif imagines the event as the culmination of a cover-up, religious zealotry, family loyalty, and revenge. 

“He is an innocent in the way that lonesome canaries are innocent, flitting from one branch to another, the tender flutter of their wings and a few milliliters of blood keeping them airborne against the gravity of this world that wants to pull everyone down to its rotting surface.”

Mohammed Hanif, A Case of Exploding Mangos 
A Case of Exploding Mangoes
  • Hanif, Mohammed (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 323 Pages - 05/05/2009 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

3. Daniyal Mueenuddin, 1963 –

Daniyal Mueenuddin
Daniyal Mueenuddin via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Daniyal Mueenuddin spent his first 13 years living in Lahore with his Pakistani father and American mother. When they divorced, however, he moved to the United States with his mother and was sent to finish his schooling at a prestigious boarding school, Groton Prep School in Massachusetts. He then graduated magna cum laude from Dartmouth. 

The summer after graduating from college, Mueenuddin returned to Pakistan to help his ailing father run his mango farm. There he spent early mornings writing poetry and evenings reading through the books that his mother had left behind. When his father died, Mueenuddin moved back to the states and earned a law degree from Yale. However, he found practicing law unfulfilling and began cultivating the love of writing that he had discovered while working on his father’s farm.

Mueenuddin’s debut novel, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. In this sometimes humorous, often tragic tale, Mueenuddin gives readers a glimpse of Pakistan’s crumbling feudal system and the intricate connections between landowners and their servants. 

“Her father became a heroin addict and died of it, her mother slept around for money and favors, and she herself at fourteen became the plaything of a small landowner’s son…These experiences had not cracked her hard skin, but made her sensual, unscrupulous—and romantic.”

Daniyal Mueenuddin,  In Other Rooms Other Wonders
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
  • In Other Rooms Other Wonders By Mueenuddin Daniyal
  • Mueenuddin, Daniyal (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 256 Pages - 11/16/2009 (Publication Date) - W. W. Norton & Company (Publisher)

4. Tehmina Durrani, 1953 –

Tehmina Durrani
Tehmina Durrani via Wikipedia, Dr Ghulam Nabi Kazi, CC BY-SA 2.0

Tehmina Durrani was born into one of Pakistan’s most highly regarded aristocratic families. At 17, she was married and had one child before divorcing. Shortly afterward, she married a prominent and influential politician, Mustafah Khar. She suffered 14 years of his abuse in silence before finally divorcing him and exposing his actions in her controversial memoir, My Feudal Lord

After leaving her husband, Durrani dedicated herself to fighting for women’s and children’s rights in Pakistan. She has worked closely with female acid attack victims and founded the Tehmina Durrani Foundation to support women’s and children’s issues. Her third husband, Shehbaz Sharif, is currently serving as the 23rd Prime Minister of Pakistan, making her the country’s First Lady. 

Durrani’s shocking account of her husband’s abuse, My Feudal Lord, was an instant success, but it came at a great personal cost. Her family disowned her for 13 years after the book’s release, and owing to her “betrayal,” she lost all financial support from her ex-husband and custody of her children. The book has since been translated into 40 languages and has won countless international literary awards. 

“The lesson was clear and I learned it well: blind acquiescence was necessary to gain approval; being yourself only earned condemnation.”

Tehmina Durrani, My Feudal Lord
My Feudal Lord: A Devastating Indictment of Women's Role in Muslim Society
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5. Kamila Shamsie, 1973 –

Kamila Shamsie
Kamila Shamsie via Wikipedia, slowking4, GFDL 1.2

Kamila Shamsie was born in Karachi to a well-off family of scholars. Her mother, great-aunt, and grandmother were all celebrated writers, so her love of language was encouraged from a very young age. When Shamsie graduated high school, she was accepted into a university exchange program, which allowed her to earn her undergraduate degree in creative writing from Hamilton College, then an MFA at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. 

Shamsie completed her first novel in college and has written eight more. She has won the Prime Minister’s Award for Literature in Pakistan and has been named one of the BBC’s “100 Women.” Her writing style is intellectual yet approachable, and her work is regularly translated into several languages. 

Home Fire, Shamsie’s most widely known novel, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, was a finalist for The International Dublin Literary Award, and won the 2018 Prize for Women’s Fiction. It is the suspenseful, tragic story of an immigrant family that must face devastating odds and goes to great lengths to protect themselves and their loved ones. 

“Grief was what you owed the dead for the necessary crime of living on without them.” 

Kamila Shamsie, Home Fire
Home Fire
  • Hardcover Book
  • Shamsie, Kamila (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 276 Pages - 04/18/2024 (Publication Date) - Riverhead Books (Publisher)

6. Mohsin Hamid, 1971 –

Mohsin Hamid
Mohsin Hamid via Wikipedia, Mr.choppers, CC BY-SA 3.0

Though born in Pakistan, Mohsin Hamid spent several years of his childhood living in San Francisco while his father completed doctoral studies at Stanford. At nine years old, Hamid returned to Pakistan, where he attended Lahore American School. After graduating, he returned to the States, earned his undergraduate degree at Princeton, and completed law school at Harvard. 

Hamid did not enjoy practicing law, however, and soon took a job as a management consultant instead.  This position allowed him to take several months off each year to write, and it was during those months he completed his first novel, Moth Smoke, which won the PEN Hemmingway Award and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. 

Moth Smoke, which has now been translated into 40 languages, follows a young ex-banker in Lahore who becomes infatuated with his best friend’s wife and addicted to heroin. The book was an instant hit in Pakistan and is often compared to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby because it gives readers an unflinching look at Pakistan’s monied elite and those who cling precariously to the edges of that gilded circle. 

“It seems an obvious thing to say, but you should not imagine that we Pakistanis are all potential terrorists, just as we should not imagine that you Americans are all undercover assassins.”

Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
  • Hamid, Mohsin (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 208 Pages - 04/14/2008 (Publication Date) - Harper Perennial (Publisher)

7. Nadeem Aslam, 1966 –

Nadeem Aslam
Nadeem Aslam via Wikipedia, Aflatoon.editor, CC BY-SA 4.0

Nadeem Aslam was born in Gujranwala, Pakistan, a vibrant, bustling city known for its culinary delights. When he was 14, however, his family was forced to flee their home country because his father, a communist, was in danger of reprisals under President Zia’s regime. The family settled in England, where Aslam would complete his schooling. 

Aslam initially studied biochemistry at the University of Manchester, but after three years gave up his studies to pursue a career in writing. His scientific proclivities remain evidenced in his writing’s extreme attention to detail. His most acclaimed novel, Maps for Lost Lovers, took him more than ten years to complete, 6 of which were spent on the first chapter alone. He painstakingly completed his first draft of the novel by hand, on paper. 

Though Maps for Lost Lovers is, on the surface, the story of two murdered lovers in England’s Pakistani immigrant community, it is, at the core, a dissection of the complexities of displacement and the search for identity. Maps for Lost Lovers was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and is highly regarded for its lyrical, poetic prose.

“Men may think a woman has no past-’you were born and then I married you’- but men are fools.”

Nadeem Aslam, Maps for Lost Lovers
Maps for Lost Lovers: A Novel
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Aslam, Nadeem (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 400 Pages - 05/09/2006 (Publication Date) - Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (Publisher)

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  • Stefani is a freelance writer who specializes in lifestyle and literary pieces. She worked for several years as a high school English teacher before becoming a full-time writer. Stefani is pursuing a graduate degree in English literature focusing on contemporary poetry. When not writing, you can find her in the garden, making plans for her next road trip, or in her workshop, where she restores vintage and antique furniture.