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The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival from the interns' point of view

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Posted by Cindy Yong at 3:24PM
Sorayya Khan

Blog posting by Cindy Yong, Biology, Writing ’16, Eagleville, PA, FLEFF Blogger

Rain pummeled.  Rivulets of water hugged the sides of paved paths.  Droplets clung to the glass doors of the Handwerker Gallery.  People trickled in with shaken umbrellas and wet shoes.  Spattered raindrops clouded my glasses.

Despite the drum of the rain, the audience soon filled the room for the City of Spies reading by Sorayya Khan.

Sorayya Khan wrote three novels: Noor (2003), Five Queen’s Road (2009), and City of Spies (2015).  Ms. Khan is half Pakistani and half Dutch similar to the character Aliya in City of Spies.

Dressed in red and black, Ms. Khan read several excerpts.  The audience spied and peeked on the story arch while the writer gave and withheld the right amount to satiate and stoke our curiosity.

With the subject matter of war and its residual impacts, City of Spies stands as a political novel.  But it also encompasses a coming-of-age story with Aliya’s contradicting identities and loyalties.  Ms. Khan constructs a believable young narrator but the telling of the story remained refined.

The inspiration for City of Spies arose in part from the burning of the US embassy in Islamabad in 1979.  She recalls reading an essay by an American writer about the event.  The essay and Ms. Khan’s own memory differed greatly from each other, even though it was about the same day.  She says this juxtaposition was worth exploring for her.

Ms. Khan combines the personal elements of home – our memories and images – with the political aspects of history.  She persistently explores how those two connect.  This exploration led to City of Spies.

“When I think of "habitat" as a word, "home" is the first thing that comes to mind.  In this way, City of Spies is very much about what home is and what it means.  I also feel that as human beings we all have "story" homes, in a sense, on which we've been raised.  The narrator in City of Spies is prompted to write her story when she discovers that other narratives about an event that shapes her exists in opposition to her "story" home.”

While not all of us will produce novels at exploration’s end, Ms. Khan leaves the audience and readers with the need to listen to the story homes of individuals.  To find the empathy behind historical headlines.

“In all my work, I hope that the audience finds a sliver of humanity that resonates with it, and in this book, because of the type of depictions of Pakistan in the news and otherwise these days, my wish for this is even stronger.”

At the reading, Ms. Khan said how she found herself in conversation with the news, literature, and memory.  This wonderful insight holds true for people with a mind for exploration, not only in fiction but also in the world we inhabit.

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