Nazneen Sheikh on The Place of Shining Light

Nazneen Sheikh's new novel is a thriller set in Pakistan, and is based partly on characters she met while there.
Nazneen Sheikh's new novel is a thriller set in Pakistan, and is based partly on characters she met while there.
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In The Place of the Shining Light, Nazneen Sheikh examines her place of birth, Pakistan, through the story of three men who have stolen an ancient Buddhist statue. The novel explores politics, war, art and greed. Informed by her own personal passions, Sheikh weaves together real experiences, characters and politics in a fictional adventure tale. This interview originally aired on December 7, 2015.

WHERE THE IDEA CAME FROM
When the Bamiyan Buddhas — 80-foot-high Buddhas carved into cliff walls — were destroyed many years ago in Afghanistan, I had a very visceral reaction to the news. I thought, "My God, we should fly over there, all of us art lovers, and we should encircle them and take these bloody people on." So I went on a research trip to Afghanistan and I was exposed to two of the characters I used in my book, who are real people who are walking around, and the events going on in the country, which were mesmerizing. I knew I wanted to incorporate them into my novel. I saw something that was irresistible; I needed to write about it.

ON THE PEOPLE WHO INSPIRED THE CHARACTERS
I met two people who were mesmerizing. I knew them and I was actually in their homes. I actually had a crisis of conscience when I realized that one of the characters was actually a pedophile and that destoyed me — I left when I found out. My third character, Adeel, is a figment of my imagination. He's my alter ego. So he thinks, acts, talks, feels the way I would.

Nazneen Shiekh's comments have been edited and condensed.