Book Brahmin: Ausma Zehanat Khan

photo: Alan Klehr

Ausma Zehanat Khan, author of The Unquiet Dead (Minotaur Books, January 13, 2015), holds a Ph.D. in International Human Rights Law with a specialization in military intervention and war crimes in the Balkans. She is a former adjunct law professor and editor-in-chief of Muslim Girl magazine, the first magazine targeted to young Muslim women. A British-born Canadian, Khan lives in Denver, Colo., with her husband.

On your nightstand now:

To Dwell in Darkness by Deborah Crombie, The Last Enchantments by Charles Finch, Origins by Amin Maalouf, Defenders of Shannara: The High Druid's Blade by Terry Brooks, Tasting the Sky by Ibtisam Barakat and The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters.

Favorite book when you were a child:

The Malory Towers series by Enid Blyton. I so much wanted to attend this British girls' school, to participate in midnight feasts with scones and clotted cream, to play pranks on the French mistress with the rest of the girls and to be best friends with head girl Darrell Rivers.

Your top five authors:

Ngaio Marsh, Amin Maalouf, J.K. Rowling, Reginald Hill and Terry Brooks.

Book you've faked reading:

Ulysses by James Joyce. It loses my attention by the second page, but now that I've been to Ireland and visited many of the book's settings, I'm ready for another attempt.

Book you're an evangelist for:

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra was, for me, the best book of 2013. It's so gorgeously written with such depth of emotion. The chapter where the Sufi prayer ritual is quietly and secretly enacted is a moving and profound statement about the human spirit in the face of unrelenting despotism. The author has a powerful and delicate hand with the brutal history of Chechnya. He broke my heart again and again.

Book you've bought for the cover:

The Blue Last by Martha Grimes. The cover is saturated in blues over what looks like a photograph of the Blitz in London. The title is embossed in silver letters. So evocative and mysterious--what does it mean?

Book that changed your life:

Dune by Frank Herbert. I was 13 when I read it and was amazed that the contentious history of Islam could be transformed into the magical and wondrous subtext of this book, bringing alive such memorable characters. To see this history reflected in a rich and fascinating way gave me hope, and made me imagine new possibilities for myself.

Favorite line from a book:

"Your manuscript has gone on ahead of you to Alamut." --Amin Maalouf, Samarkand. It captures everything that is hilarious, touching and tragic in the failed relationship of the Chief of the Assassins, Hassan Sabbah, and the poet-philosopher-mathematician, Omar Khayyam. The manuscript in question will turn out to be The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

Which character you most relate to:

Hermione in the Harry Potter series. She's a know-it-all worrywart, just like me, and she believes the answer to everything can be found in books--again, like me.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Dialogues of the Dead, an astoundingly literate mystery by Reginald Hill that's poetic, spooky, haunting, desolate, brilliant and so frightening. I wish I could unravel it again from the beginning, and just not know. A masterpiece of plotting.

Invaluable lesson from a book:

The narrator of Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes designs a list of subjects that should never be written about again. My favourite? "There shall be no more novels about incest. No, not even ones in very bad taste." Item number one on this list ["...novels in which a group of people, isolated by circumstances, revert to the 'natural condition' of man, become essential, poor, bare, forked creatures...."] is a literary tour de force. The whole list is deeply funny and still makes me laugh.

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