Pakistani-German novelist Sarah Khan has already written three novels and is currently in Pakistan, researching for her next one. She spoke to DW about her current hometown Berlin and her Pakistani background.
In 'The Ghosts of Berlin,' Sarah Khan's most recent publication, Berliners tell the 41-year-old about their first-hand encounters with the supernatural, thus revealing "layer upon layer of the city's troubled history, from a cursed stone cross stolen from an East Berlin graveyard by 1970s Goth teenagers, to the eerie goings-on in a Kreuzberg building that housed Nazi-era forced laborers."
DW: What prompted you to write 'The Ghosts of Berlin,' which deals with such a bizarre subject?
Sarah Khan: There is a long tradition in Germany of telling ghosts stories. They are now part of German literature. I believe that such stories are popular because people like fear. But I am merely narrating tales. My purpose is not to make a judgment about the supernatural. I am only trying to bring out people's ideas and feelings about supernatural elements.
But these stories can have a substantial impact on people's minds and thinking. Don't you think it will glorify ghosts and the supernatural?
I don't think so. Crime novels do not inspire people to commit crimes. I only think that these books inculcate the habit of reading in people. I agree though that writers can influence people and their opinions. In that respect, a writer has the responsibility to play a constructive part in a society’s growth.
What makes a good storyteller?
Observation and hard work. You have to work very hard to be a good writer. It takes me two to three years to write a book. But more than technique, a good writer should know what to write. Even if you are not a professional writer, if you observe your society closely, you can write good stories about what is happening in your surroundings.
Are you planning to translate your books into other languages?
Yes. I am also exploring the phenomenon of e-books.
Are you a full-time author or do you have other jobs as well?
It is not easy for young writers to earn a living only by writing books. They have to do other jobs as well. I also work as a freelance journalist.
It is your fifth visit to Pakistan. What do you think about Pakistan and Lahore?
Lahore is a beautiful city but the increase in street traffic has somewhat marred its beauty. I think it is the job of all Pakistanis to conserve the beauty of their homeland.
What is your new novel about?
It is called 'Pakistani Salad,' and it is about my family and my links with Pakistan and Germany. I am currently working on it and trying to elaborate on what I have written. I want to publish it in the form of a book. The book is based on my family's circumstances. It is not easy to write about your own life and at the same time it is quite difficult to make such a subjective story interesting for readers.
Tell us a bit about your family.
I was born in Hamburg and studied German literature, film, and cultural studies there. My father was a carpet merchant from Lahore while my mother is German. After my parents' divorce, I chose to live with my father. For the past 10 years, I have lived in Berlin with my husband and our two kids. My autobiographical novel talks about all of this.
Sarah Khan spoke with Tanvir Shahzad in Lahore