Sabina Khan: We’re More Alike Than Different

Posted by: yetheart, January 17, 2019 7:53 pm
Blog Image: 
Sabina Khan

Sabina Khan’s first experience at libraries was reading books to improve her language skills when she moved from Germany to Bangladesh. She spent time at the British Council Library and her elementary school library, reading to help herself adjust to her new surroundings.

She loves spending time in the libraries of her current hometown of Surrey, British Columbia. Now that she’s a parent, her library is an “invaluable resource and a place that holds many happy memories for me and my family.” Growing up in Bangladesh, she read one of the few series she had access to, Enid Blyton. Later, she discovered other authors: “As a teen I loved Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Rabindranath Tagore. I fell in love with all the authors of the books on my school summer reading lists: the Bronte sisters, Louisa May Alcott, and Jane Austen.”

As an immigrant to the U.S. and Canada, Khan discovered many South Asian writers including Rohinton Mistry, Khaled Hosseini, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, and Tanuja Desai Hidier from lists compiled by her local librarian. “In their stories I felt seen—as a new immigrant, as a transplant to a new culture, and as someone whose stories mattered,” she remembers. “It was the driving force behind my ambition to one day write my own novels.”

Khan’s inspiration for her novel The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali was when her 17-year-old daughter came out: “She spoke often of other teens at her school who came from conservative families and were unable to come out to them. Some didn’t feel safe anywhere and were hurting. I wanted to write a story about a young girl who just wants to be loved for who she is and doesn’t want to conform to what her parents and others in her life want her to be. She wants to stay true to herself, but doesn’t want to lose the people she loves in the process. I also wanted to share what it feels like to be constantly straddling cultures, never quite belonging to one community or the other, and how lonely and painful that can be.”

The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina KhanKhan herself grew up in several cultures, which she says had a lasting effect of teaching her “that the lines we draw around ourselves in the name of community, religion, and other labels are just that. They’re labels and nothing more. Once we see past them, it becomes clear that we’re more alike than different and even those differences just make us unique in beautiful ways and shouldn’t be used to push each other away. Of course, I’m well aware that things are rarely that black and white, but in my own life this philosophy has served me well.”

Two books were most influential while she was writing this novel: Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed and Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan. As she explains, “Both tackle difficult and sensitive topics with grace and respect and I felt tremendously drawn towards the characters and the familiar struggles they were going through.”

She hopes her book “will inspire young LGBTQ women to push back against those who won’t allow them to live as their true selves. I wish them the strength to fight for their love and to find hope that things will change for the better.”

Khan is currently working on another YA contemporary book that also features a Muslim main character. The book “deals with immigration and the threat of losing the place you call home.” While the draft of her first novel “came pouring out in sixteen feverish days,” this time she is outlining more as she evolves as a writer: “I like to marinate in the storyline until the characters begin to feel familiar and start speaking to me.”

Reading has long been a refuge for her, especially when she was bullied as a child. “I read to relax, to escape, to calm myself, when I’m happy, when I’m sad, so pretty much all the time,” she says. “I love losing myself in the characters’ stories, their hopes and dreams. As a child, I used to imagine myself having all the same adventures, overcoming obstacles and defeating the bad guys. I would encourage others to read because it frees your mind and takes you to places you may otherwise never experience.”

She advises readers, “Forge ahead even when the world tells you otherwise. Be open to life because amazing things will happen along the way. But most of all, be kind to yourselves.”

The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali is out January 29, 2019 and will be available at Queens Library.

This is just one of the great stories you can read in the January/February 2019 issue of Queens Library Magazine. Other articles you may find interesting: