Read City of Spies by Sorayya Khan Online


‘God was everywhere, but so was the general.’It is the summer of 1977 and Pakistan swelters in the unrelenting heat. Weeks after her eleventh birthday, Aliya Shah wakes up to the news that there has been a coup d’état, General Zia has taken over the country and Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is in jail. Although the shadow of the general and his increasingly puritanica‘God was everywhere, but so was the general.’It is the summer of 1977 and Pakistan swelters in the unrelenting heat. Weeks after her eleventh birthday, Aliya Shah wakes up to the news that there has been a coup d’état, General Zia has taken over the country and Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is in jail. Although the shadow of the general and his increasingly puritanical edicts threaten to disrupt their comfortable existence, life goes on for Aliya much as before as she attends the American School in Islamabad. However, when a much loved young boy, the son of the family retainer, dies tragically in a hit-and-run accident, her world is turned upside down, especially when she discovers the terrible secret of the murderer’s identity.City of Spies is coming-of-age story that explores Aliya’s conflicting loyalties and her on-going struggle to make sense of her world. Set in late 1970’s Islamabad and Lahore, City of Spies is a gripping novel that unfolds over thirty months in Pakistan’s tumultuous history....

Title : City of Spies
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9789383064786
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 248 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

City of Spies Reviews

  • Zoe
    2019-04-30 12:34

    Fascinating, pensive, and well written.City of Spies is an intriguing read that gives you an inside look into what life in Islamabad was like for a young girl of mixed race (Pakistani/Dutch) during the 1970s and the American influence in that part of the world at that time.Thank you to Thomas Allen & Son and Goodreads Giveaways for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

  • Laura McNeal
    2019-05-15 13:25

    This is a beautiful, complex, revelatory book about a girl's experience of being half-Pakistani and half-Dutch in the American School of Islamabad from 1977 until the Iranian hostage crisis and the burning of the American Embassy in 1979. Finally, all these years after September 11, we have a chance to go back in time and see the place that has become so familiar as a name in headlines and yet so difficult to know: Islamabad. "The beginning of this story is simple if you have an eye for colour, a gift for geography and a mind for fractions. My father, Javid, is brown and Pakistani, my mother, Irene, is white and Dutch, and my siblings and I are half-and-halfs. . . . Lucky for us, the government of Pakistan had just permitted the American school to build a large campus forty-five minutes outside the city. In return, the institution was required to admit a handful of Pakistanis on full scholarships because, of course, no Pakistani, except maybe the prime minister, could afford to pay the thousands of dollars as tuition fees. That's how we ended up in the American school, spending forty-five minutes every morning riding yellow school buses to the red-brick buildings on the outskirts of Islamabad." To go inside that school, to ride in its yellow buses to places where Pakistanis and Americans live side by side but not together, to stand at the top of the high dive of the pool of the Islamabad Club, to see and smell and taste the differences between the smallest and yet absolutely definitive things, from Junior Mints to gulab jamuns and Nurpur butter, is to enter a fully-formed, richly textured, heartbreakingly imperfect world and see the faint but unmistakable beginnings of a conflict that has grown to engulf us all.

  • Kate Olson
    2019-05-18 08:09

    CITY OF SPIES is a critically important and fascinating read in our time of political strife and international crisis.Thank you to Little A for providing me with an advance review copy of this title - all opinions are my own. Set in the late 1970's in Islamabad, Pakistan, this novel is narrated by a pre-teen girl as she experiences politically and historically monumental events including the Iran Hostage Crisis and the burning of the US Embassy in Islamabad. While these events are occurring, Aliya is also grappling with her own biracial and cultural identity and a tragic accident involving the son of her Pakistani servant. As the child of a father who holds an important place in the government, Aliya attends the American School and is caught in a world between that of her American classmates and Pakistani relatives and neighbors.As I read this book right after reading HUM IF YOU DON'T KNOW THE WORDS by Bianca Marais, I really can't help comparing the two and recommending that if you liked HUM (set in South Africa during the uprising to end apartheid), you should definitely pick up CITY OF SPIES. The parallels are obvious - narrated by young girl, racial and cultural identity grappled with, political instability, the role of the local population as servants/employees. Khan's narrative is incredibly compelling and while it is not a fast read and requires close attention, the uniqueness and necessity of the topic matter put this book into my Best of 2017 category.LIBRARIAN NOTES: While reading, I definitely was trying to place CITY OF SPIES into a "age" recommendation - it is an adult novel, but the content is such that it can definitely be placed into high school libraries. I would have recommended that it be included in the Adult Books for Teens review section of School Library Journal. Titlewave categorizes the title as Adult and Dewey as 813, which I would disagree with. I would place this in my fiction collection. GOODREADS NOTE: The original edition of this book published by Aleph Book Company of New Delhi in 2015 is listed as a separate title on Goodreads - there are copious reviews there of the original publication. This listing is for the US publication by Little A, a division of Amazon Publishing.

  • Sarika Patkotwar
    2019-05-09 08:24

    *NOTE: We (The Readdicts) recieved a copy of City of Spies by Sorayya Khan from Rupa Publications in exchange for an honest review. We thank the publishing house for the book! I honestly have no idea how I'm going to put down this review, and more importantly, I have no idea what I'm going to put down in this review. All I know is that I'm glad I kept my apprehension, boredom and reluctance aside and decided to ask for a copy of City of Spies, which turned to be exactly the kind of book that I like to read. A book that is brutal, fresh, true and raw. Even though it took me days to start the book and even more days to keep going with it, once I was in it, I was in it. There was no looking back and there was no putting the book down. City of Spies is the story of one brave, courageous and smart girl whose father is Pakistani and mother is Dutch. Having stayed in Vienna for so long, Aliya and her family consisting of her parents and her older brother and sister, is forced to go to Pakistan for an electricity and water supply project that her father is to guide in his country. All the characters in this book are very well developed and excellently portrayed. Each one stands out and manages to shine even in the presence of others. But the one person who, I feel, is the star of the book, is the servant of the family, Hanif. Now why is that? That's for the reader to find out. Aliya was portrayed as a normal girl who finds herself facing an identity crisis. Although she wants to adapt to the lifestyle of her fellow American or Western classmates, she still appreciates and even prefers her Pakistani specialities and everything else that makes the country incredible in her own right. She goes on to become a journalist and the entire book goes from her point of view in first person where she recounts her time spent in Pakistan as a school going girl between the arrival of the General to the burning of the American Embassy. What made City of Spies such an epic read for me was the writing. Author Sorayya Khan has written a book wherein words flow like it's in their nature to just blend and form a prose that's so much like poetry. The writing was crisp, meticulous, spot-on and simply jaw-dropping. I adored every chapter, paragraph, line and word. I was amazed and absolutely mind-blown. The author has written a great book that recounts a lovely story, and that is enough to satisfy me. I don't see any reason why this book doesn't deserve to be read.

  • Shaianne Osterreich
    2019-04-24 07:08

    Aliya, the story teller in the City of Spies, usually asks the right questions. Partly because she is often on the outside of whatever it is that's going on because she is caught betwixt and between. As a young person with a questioning mind she wonders about what is really going on - in the rapidly changing political landscape of a new Pakistan, at her home, at the American International school she travels to every day. She is from a mixed background with parents that have lived a worldly life with the freedom of movement and wealth that many families could only imagine. She is accustomed to having servants and though she is perhaps the most understanding person in her family when it comes to relating to the help she never can shake her suspicions or the expectation that they work for her. That said her intimate familial and community bond to the people in her house and Pakistan is so deep that it seems to surprise her sometimes. Her sincere fondness for her American best friend and her family complicates Aliya's sense of identity and community in unexpected ways. This book and its main character are tender and adventurous. Aliyah's ongoing attempts to figure out what is going on are inspiring. Would that we all have an ongoing drive to understand more and better like she does. It is impossible to understand our world without digging into the past and the turbulent geo-political landscape of the late 1970's is hard to unpack. Sorayya Khan's fascinating and devastating novel takes us on this historical trip to Islamabad and the young yet inquisitive and thoughtful soul she created is an excellent companion.

  • Anja
    2019-05-11 06:09

    City of Spies was a brilliant read. Sorayya Khan took me back to my childhood and adolescence in Pakistan so seamlessly. She did what is so difficult i.e. paint a microcosm that sheds light on the macro climate through characters that live through seismic shifts of global events. The reader views events through very personal lenses of real peoples lives. I have rarely read a coming of age story that shows the schisms of home life and life outside of the family better. It illustrates the compromises especially kids who move and live global lives have to make as they negotiate their way in the world in an effort to construct identities that neither parent had to consciously chose in that way. For the first time I read about the way, kids like us, so often have to be observers of communities that are not ours for a very long time before we buy in and commit. Well done my friend Sorayya Khan, what a tour de force!!

  • Beth
    2019-05-22 14:13

    Another volume of lovely prose from this author. After a slow start, I was drawn into Pakistan of the 70s, as seen by a young girl. I was drawn back into my memories of being a tween at an American school in a foreign land (Mexico, in my case). I recognized the diplomatic families, often populated with spies, who got all their food and household supplies shipped from the States. Also the corporate kids (GM) who had drivers at their disposal at all times. We also had tense times at the school when protests were engulfing the US Embassy. It was enlightening to see the parallels.Highly recommended!

  • Kate
    2019-05-04 13:25

    Stunning coming of age book about an 11 year old girl living in Pakistan in the late 1970's and how she interprets the political upheaval and her personal life. She lives in a city of diplomats and goes to the American school so her friends leave after just a few years since their parents posts change. It's a true story which makes it even more meaningful. I wasn't sure how I felt about the book while I was reading it, but the ending, made it. Really touching and I won't forget this one.

  • Anne
    2019-05-11 09:20

    My second reading of City of Spies was just as enjoyable as the first back in 2015. And the truth in the sentence..."we are defined by the wars we have lived, regardless of whether we can name them." hits way to close to home. An entire generation has been raised in the aftermath of the turmoil that the cold war superpowers helped to create back in the late 70's.

  • Julie Anderson
    2019-05-24 09:08

    I've been transported into an unfamiliar world, yet I feel completely comfortable. In this third novel from Sorayya Kahn, the calmness of her prose carries me effortlessly through the fascinating tale of a young girl's awakening. I imagined myself a thirteen year old girl, trying to understand events and people while struggling to fit in due to dual nationalities and the benefits of worldly experiences. As always with her work, Kahn teaches me not just history, culinary delights, and place, but political perspective as well. I enjoyed the learning. Helps for understanding and that can only be a good thing.

  • Lisa
    2019-04-24 09:08

    Very well written book about a young, mixed-culture girl growing up in a city misunderstood by most westerners. Half Pakistani and half Dutch, Aliya grows up privileged by local standards; attending the international school in the nation's capital. With one foot in two cultures, she struggles to straddle a precarious balance beam during a time of great strife between her two worlds. I highly recommend this book to anyone.

  • Pat Dutt
    2019-04-29 09:22

    Ms Khan begins her novel with “My parents tell me that we are defined by the wars we have lived, regardless of whether we can name them . They did not have the luxury of not knowing their wars…. Currently, we all live the War on Terror, an endless war that will outlive our children.” A war, I’d like to add, that George Orwell would have said: “I told you so.” Wars that are allowed because there are spies and we believe the lies. Is this a novel everyone should read? Absolutely, and especially anyone who questions the wars we continue to be involved in. And Khan gives you a real sense of what it’s like to live in Pakistan and what it’s like to be a young girl in Pakistan. The novel is narrated by Aliya, an eleven-year-old half-and-half (half Pakistani, half Dutch) living in Islamabad, the country’s capital. It is 1977 and there has been a coup: Prime Minister Bhutto has been indicted for murder and imprisoned by General Zia, who proclaims: “no political activity, no gatherings of more than 5 people in public spaces.” Newspapers are “marked by white columns”. The constitution is suspended, the national assembly dissolved, and governors and chief ministers fired. Moreover, during the next 30 months, the country becomes a “playground where both superpowers (the US and USSR) spread mischief. “In City of Spies, the government spies on its people, especially those in decision-making positions and those loyal to the overthrown minister. This includes Aliya’s father, Jivad, a Pakistani, who moved his family from Austria to Pakistan’s capital when he was appointed the chairman of the country’s Water and Power Development Authority, WAPA. Because Ailya does not know Urdu (having been raised in Austria) she isn’t allowed to attend Pakistani schools, instead, she takes a 45 minutes bus ride every day (during which spit balls are flung at pedestrians and cyclists) to the American school which serves diplomats e.g., CIA .There, at the school Ailya becomes best friends with Lizzy , an American. It’s a confusing and chaotic time both in the public and private sphere. Ailya is a half-and half, her best friend, American. Which group does Ailya identify with? When a man exposes himself to her, Ailya, reflecting on the incident thinks: “The word, Amriakan, was hurled at me like a curse and I wondered if the way I felt –small and dirty inside—was how regular bicyclists and pedestrians felt when they were hit with a spitball from the yellow bus . Being labelled American also made me think of the prime minister, dead now, who’d yelled about Americans, calling the elephants … I wondered where I fit in."Questions of loyalty and identity are further complicated by Lizzy’s Mom, who driving along dark unfamiliar roads, hits a boy , who happens to be the son of Ailya’s family’s servant. Because Ailya is both “us” and “them”, her perspective helps illuminate our relationship with those who are not “us”. For instance, as I read about the references to the 1979 hostage situation in Iran, I was transport backed to Houston, where on one wall of the low-ceiling room work room where I processed seismic data, was a life-size photo of the Ayatollah Khomeini . His face was nearly obliterated by holes from darts. Most Americans in 1979 were strongly anti-Iranian. Did we ever question the origin of this hate or how it so deeply obliterated our ability to even try to understand another culture? Do we question, now, what keeps the hate alive? Because if we don’t, doesn’t that keep The War on Terror alive and well? I want a novel with the power to immerse me in another world and this novel does just that: I feel I am seeing Islamabad through Ailya’s eyes: the streets, the Margalla Hills, the bus ride to school , the attack of the American school. And Khan’s novel leaves me haunted with questions about myself, my sense of justice and fairness, so that at the novel’s end, I have not only traveled outside of myself, but I have traveled inside, too.

  • Prerna Mishra
    2019-04-30 12:34

    City of Spies - Sorayya KhanAliya is a half Pakistani-half Dutch girl living in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Her father moved the family from Vienna to Islamabad to answer the call of duty towards his nation. Just as she is adjusting to life here, there is a military coup and the government is taken over by the radical Islamic General Zia-ul-Haq. She continues her education at the American Embassy school, where she is best friends with Lizzy, whose father is a malaria expert at the American Embassy. But people are often not who they pretend to be and things are not often what they seem to be. -Aliya’s household is served by a very loyal help, Sadiq. His son, Hanif is killed in a hit and run accident by an American with diplomatic immunity. The price of Hanif’s life is set to be 50000 rupees, which Sadiq gets as compensation. This event forms the very basis of the novel. In the background, are the various political events of the time that shaped the history of Pakistan; the hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the Iran hostage crisis and the burning of the American Embassy in Islamabad; and event that directly affects Lizzy. These times enforce Aliya to finally identify herself to be Pakistani instead of the half and half identify that she had so far been struggling with; though she is not sure she is too proud of it.-The story is very fast paced and it is evident that the author has drawn tremendously from her personal experience. The book also lays out the political realities of the time and highlights the influence that the American involvement has had on the history and politics of the region. It also makes one ponder why an American life is always more valuable than say for example, a Pakistani one; and on a broader note; how is it even possible to value life in monetary terms. The built up to the climax was great; but the climax itself left a lot more to be desired. And my disappointment with the climax also makes me question the overall verbosity. Overall, this is a good fictional read based on real life incidents based during a tumultuous time; as seen through the eyes of a young girl who despite being physically present, is quite an outsider herself.

  • Elizabeth Lawson
    2019-05-04 09:05

    City of Spies by Sorayya Khan is set in Islamabad in the late 1970s, a turbulent time for Pakistan. Primre Minister Zulfiqar Bhutto has been deposed by a general and is eventually hung. The U.S. Embassy is burned to the ground. There is personal tragedy as well in the home of Aliya Shah, an 11-year-old girl, who narrates the story. Her perspective is complicated: her father is Pakistani, her mother is Dutch, and she attends the American School. Aliya is just at the age where she questions everything, but the adults around her answer questions obliquely or not at all. It is clear to readers that she is wise to be skeptical. As the story unfolds with Aliya as the central spy in a city of spies, I eagerly followed her efforts to solve a mystery that concerns many of cultural clashes in Islamabad. The denouement brought me to tears. There is much to be learned about this important area of the world and about human nature as differing cultures encounter each other—and about the foods that express these different cultures. I became hungry for both Pakistani food and the Dutch treats that Aliya’s mother made at holiday times. (The American food that arrived by plane for diplomats is less appetizing.) City of Spies is a wonderful “read.” The prose is graceful and satisfying. I wouldn’t classify it as a “political” novel. It is a novel about life in a complicated part of the world.

  • Ned Balzer
    2019-04-26 12:24

    Sorayya Khan’s novels seem to get better and better. City of Spies is the second of her novels that I have read (and now I need to go out and get Five Queen’s Road!).Through the eyes of a young “half-and-half”, an adolescent girl of mixed Dutch and Pakistani parentage who isn’t sure in which world she really belongs, we meet characters from both the East and the West whose multifaceted participation in personal and international tragedies slowly reveal their complexity. But never completely. The psyche of an accidental killer (but is it ever really an accident?) is obscured and transmuted by the love of her family. A grieving father, who to our narrator is parent and servant and sibling all at once, startles us with the subtlety of his moral reactions to his countrymen and foreigners alike. Even a man who has lived his entire life in Lahore and Islamabad is a “half-and-half”. Against the confidently drawn backdrop of 1970s Islamabad (which the author renders as utterly familiar), we spy on these characters, many of them spies themselves of one kind or another. We think we’ve learned enough to judge, only to discover on the next page, or the one after it, that we know so little. “You think so little of me,” one of the characters admonishes our narrator. In the end the author understands, and helps us to remember, that other people are never fully knowable, and it is exactly this mystery that gives City of Spies its tremendous narrative power.

  • Mari Manning
    2019-05-01 06:19

    I was interested in this book because its setting is a time and place (1979, Pakistan) that I don't know much about. From that perspective, my knowledge did expand a bit, but it's hard to really delve into events when they are all filtered through the eyes of a twelve-year-old. There is a lot of "I heard my father tell..." and "My mother explained that..." And because she is only twelve, her role doesn't move beyond observer (and spy).Some of the things that happen in the story are horrific, and the young protagonist exhibited all the correct emotions and thoughts, but they never really resonated for me. As the story went along, I tried to figure out why, and then I got to the Epilogue, which is done from the perspective of the protagonist as an adult. The Epilogue did resonate and was beautifully written, and I felt that I was listening to Sorayya Khan's true voice. So maybe the choice of a child as protagonist wasn't the best. That said, the book is interesting, and I think that it would be acceptable as a YA book as well.

  • JulieWebb
    2019-05-02 12:27

    This is story about identity, family, and politics. What makes us who we are? Where should our loyalty lie? The unique perspective, from that of a child, that begins an uncertain journey of an outsider, that continues to question the why's of her existence, and covers topics as varied as national identity, government politics, riots, and family bonds; it manages to seamlessly weave all these pieces together and give closure in the end. Wonderful descriptions that draw me in. Written from the perspective of a girl as she grows up in Pakistan the daughter of a Pakistan father and Dutch mother. When she arrives as a child from Europe she barely speaks Urdu, she is an outsider, and must attend the American school with diplomat children. After the family relocates to Pakistan the general initiates a government take over. The majority of the story occurs after the take over, with the accompanying upheaval.Definitely worth a read. I couldn't put it down. I won this book in a goodreads giveaway.

  • Brianna
    2019-05-17 13:06

    Two Stars - It was okay.I won a free copy of this book in a Goodreads Giveaway. I was interested in this book mostly for the subject matter. I don't know much if anything about Pakistan in the late 1970s. I'm always interested in learning about new places and times and the history. So, I was excited to receive this book.I was disappointed with the narration. A LOT of telling and not showing. There were unnecessary details to explain why characters did certain things and it bogged me down. If the author was going for a novel written by a 12/13-year-old she did a great job. Now, the epilogue, most of that was written very well and I enjoyed it more than the rest of the book.I did enjoy the introduction I got to Pakistani culture, geology, and spiritualism. The issue of the main character being half-and-half was beautiful. The inner conflicts of such a character were portrayed nicely.All in all, definitely two stars - It was okay. Thanks for the read.

  • Richbern
    2019-04-27 09:26

    This a novel that gets credit for reaching high, yet falls short in its prosaic narrative. City of Spies tells the story of a 12 year old half-Pakistani girl against the backdrop of upheaval in Islamabad in the late 1970s. The political machinations are breathtaking, but the girl's story is so rooted in her own personal life that the two stories almost feel as if they are happening independently. A 12 year old struggling to understand the world around her can be fascinating. But geopolitics filtered through a young girl's eyes gets oversimplified to the extent of becoming merely dull.

  • Kerry Pickens
    2019-04-26 14:31

    The book was interesting to start, but just didn't seem to go anywhere. It is typical narration of events in war torn countries, and the only unique quality is the main characer is mixed race. She is conflicted as to whether she wants to be European or Pakistani, and is troubled by the class system when a diplomats wife accidentally kills her servants child and there are few repercussions. She is still upper class no matter what race she tries to pass as, and has to deal not only between the whites and the Pakistanis, but her own disdain for her father's people.

  • Lori
    2019-05-21 07:11

    SO, it started good and there were moments that I got engaged and really thought it was going somewhere...but then nothing. I guess that's the risk with reading someones memoirs. I didn't think it was very exciting. Something does happen very early on that is a big deal, but for me, that was the climax. SO, everything after that was kind of wha wha.Nonetheless, easy to read, and nice to see a perspective of someone growing up with a multi-culture background in another country. It just didn't have enough zing for me.

  • Jenni
    2019-05-01 10:28

    I loved this novel. It brought me back to a time in my own adolescence when my family lived in Islamabad, the political turmoil of the time, and the diplomatic enclave of the city. Sorayya Khan did a great job capturing the historic tensions, the characters that populate the story, and the setting. The characters in this novel were real to me, and the conflicts rang true. I did not want to put this novel down, and I can't recommend it highly enough. Anyone who lived in Pakistan in the late 70s will relate to this. Lovely writing, and great story telling.

  • Lynda
    2019-05-10 08:05

    This autobiographical novel set in Pakistan in the 1970s is a great read. This is mostly because of the author's clear, spare journalistic style. Every detail is important. Seen in hindsight through the eyes of the child the turbulent, yet oddly humorous as well, world of Pakistan under General Zia, is brought vividly alive. The author straddles two cultures but is definitely Pakistani. The personal tragedy at the base of the novel is poignantly unfolded. The people are real in more ways than one. Highly recommended.

  • Stephanie Ann
    2019-05-18 11:05

    I found this book a little hard to read and follow initially as I had no background of the topic. I am however glad I stuck with it, and it became hard to put down. It was a great view into the life of a young woman in Islamabad. I found the ending truly fabulous. Everything seemed to come full circle in an unexpected way. I am very glad I was given the opportunity to read this book

  • Cat
    2019-04-26 12:27

    Life in Pakistan in the late 1970s It's the story of a young Pakistani-Dutch girl in the late 70s and her observations of the worlds around her -- from living as a "half & half" in Pakistan, her attendance at the American school, her family life and how she starts to see the larger world around her.

  • Dottie Resnick
    2019-04-27 08:19

    Interesting story based on the authors life, growing up in Pakistan during the 1970’s with all the political turmoil. Her father was Pakistani and her mother Dutch who converted to Islam. She attends an American school, so has experiences with Americans as well as entrenched in Pakistani life. Very informative from a different perspective.

  • Anneke Alnatour
    2019-05-10 10:06

    Surprisingly good! I had no expectations of this book, but I was not disappointed at all. It was well written, never dragged on and I really liked the main character. She was very relatable and so very normal, that I really enjoyed seeing her world through her eyes. I did not know much about Pakistan in the 70s and now have an idea how life was then. Recommended!

  • Martha Wicker
    2019-05-10 12:17

    I was in college at the time in history when this was occurring. It was a nice reminder of the way things were and somewhat of an explanation since I was so wrapped up in my studies I was a peripheral observer.

  • Pat Edwards
    2019-04-26 07:20

    Great. Well written, fast-paced. Good treatment of multiple perspectives.

  • P
    2019-05-01 06:35