Books·Canadian

There Has to Be a Knife

Adnan Khan's debut novel investigates themes of race, class, masculinity and contemporary relationships.

Adnan Khan

For readers of Brother by David Chariandy and Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez, Adnan Khan's blistering debut novel investigates themes of race, class, masculinity and contemporary relationships.

Omar Ali, 27-year-old line cook and petty criminal, gets a phone call from his ex-girlfriend's father at work, informing Omar that Anna has committed suicide. Unable to process or articulate his grief, and suffering from insomnia, Omar embarks on a quest to obtain her suicide note from her elusive parents. As he unravels, Omar finds himself getting involved in break-ins, online terrorism, dealing with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and losing his best friend as he becomes less recognizable.

There Has to Be a Knife examines expectations — both intimate and political — on brown men, exploring ideas of cultural identity and the tropes we use to represent them. (From Arsenal Pulp Press)

Adnan Khan was the recipient of the 2016 RBC Taylor Prize for Emerging Writer and was a reader for the CBC Nonfiction Prize in 2017.

Why Adnan Khan wrote There Has to Be a Knife

"There's something interesting about stereotypes. They say so much about our culture. I wanted to push into them through the characters and evoke some of those feelings. Then by undercutting them it is a formal choice to make that stereotype come to light while trying to add a bit of humanity.

There's something really interesting about stereotypes. They say so much about our culture.- Adnan Khan

"I was curious to explore the flexibility within that concept of being a 'brown' person. The stereotype (of all dark-skinned individuals being terrorists, et cetera) limits how an individual can express themselves in moral and ethically ways. When you're viewed through certain prisms — be it a young man, a young brown man or a young Muslim man — and you start piling on those sort of intersections on individuals, it can be hard to express individuality when you have to engage with that wider context."

Read more in his interview with CBC Books.

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